Thursday, September 30, 2010

Month in Review and October Goals

monthly goals at mama smiles

We had a good September. It ends with record temperatures – the heat makes us feel like summer is here to stay for a while longer. Luckily, we now have an A/C that is actually cooling down our house instead of just sounding like an airplane ready to take off. Even with minor fixes that still remain, I consider this September goal accomplished.

Anna had a good time at grandparents’ place. 18 days, however, was about one week too long, and she was very happy to be back home. My husband enjoyed his visit home to Germany and seeing his friends and family.

I used the time to reorganize the house and to read. I went out with my friends to see two movies (the movies could have been better though). Overall, I feel relaxed and refreshed with this mini-vacation from family, and I have a lot more plans for October.

  • 1. October is Anna’s birthday month – so it means a birthday party and celebrations with adult family friends. I am too “chicken” to have kid’s birthday party at home, and she was asking since her last birthday to have it at Pump-It-Up, so Pump-It-Up it is.
  • 2. We plan to entertain friends – some old, some new, and enjoy the last of our grilling season.
  • 3. I want to try and make some sort of Halloween treats this year – I don’t bake often, so it will be a new adventure.
  • 4. We plan for at least one “field trip” – either to pick apples or to go to a pumpkin patch. Come to think of it, if this heat continues, maybe it will be a beach trip instead.
  • 5. Our big family project for October is to turn our garage from a crazy storage room into what it’s supposed to be (at least for one car). I sold/donated/threw out some of the things we had, but it was just “scratching the surface”. I would like to celebrate the second anniversary of our home ownership by finally unpacking all the boxes from our move.

Share your October goals with Monthly goals at Mama Smiles.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Geography and History of Apples

image Apples to Oregon I looked at Apples to Oregon last year and decided that the book will be incomprehensible for daughter due to many cultural references. But since then we listened to unabridged Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie audio books, and I thought that Apples to Oregon will make a lot more sense now. However, it turned out to be “one time read”. Anna The Story of Johnny Appleseed listened to the story, but didn’t ask any questions and didn’t ask to reread the book since. We also read The Story of Johnny Appleseed by Aliki that had the same theme of spreading apples across the country on pioneer trails. Unfortunately, Anna didn’t connect to the story at all, maybe because of illustrations where one spread was done in black-and-white, and the next one in color. As an extension activity we pulled her United States puzzle. My plan was to look at the states between Iowa and Oregon (or between Massachusetts and State Puzzle the West coast for Appleseed story), but Anna had other ideas. She first threw all the pieces around the room and swiped them back together. Then we played for a little bit the game where each of us randomly picked one piece of the puzzle and put it back on the map. I was a little surprised that she did know where to put her pieces even though I’ve never seen her playing with the puzzle. Then she ended up with Oklahoma, and she started talking excitedly how Oklahoma looks like a pan with a long handle. Suddenly the game shifted into pretend cooking in Oklahoma pan where I would pretend to smell various dishes, and Anna would inform me what she had in mind. She found this game very funny and entertaining, especially since all her dishes had pepper as one of main ingredients and I complained that her dishes are too spicy.

I told the story to my husband when he came home in the evening and commented how Anna doesn’t seem to care for US geography. And he told me the funny story from their flight to New Jersey:

  • Anna (after boarding the plane): It says here, “Life vest is under the seat”. Why do we need a life vest on the plane?
  • Papa: Well, sometimes planes have to have an emergency landing in water.
  • Anna: But what if there are sharks?
  • Papa: Do we fly over the ocean?
  • Anna: I don’t know. Show me the map.
  • Papa (pulls out the flight map): Do you know where we are?
  • Anna: Umm… Yes. Here is San Francisco where the Golden Gate Bridge is. And here it says Monterey, that’s where we went to the aquarium. And here is Sacramento, our capital.
  • Papa: How do you know that Sacramento is our capital?
  • Anna: Because my puzzle said so!
  • The passenger in the next seat: Excuse me, but how old is your daughter???

Come and share your adventures in time and space at History/Geography Exchange at Children Grow, Children Explore, Children Learn.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tiny Talk Tuesday – Birthday Wishes

image Sep20_AnnaPortrait

Anna’s German grandparents asked us to pick and order a present for her birthday based on Anna’s preferences.

  • Me: Anna, what would you like Oma and Opa to give you for your birthday?
  • Anna: I cannot tell you! If I tell you my wish, it won’t come true.
  • Anna’s papa: No, it’s only for when you blow the candles on your cake or wish upon a star. For the birthday present you have to tell us.
  • Anna: Well, I already have almost too many toys. So whatever they decide will be good.
  • Me: Maybe you want a bike?
  • Anna (excitedly). Yes, I want a bike! But… only when I am older. I still have to practice my trike first.

I am linking this post to Tiny Talk Tuesday hosted by Not Before 7.

Preschool Mini-Unit - Apples

September is a traditional time to start fall learning themes with preschoolers. For a while now Smarty was talking about planting an apple tree, and I challenged her to pick her tree to plant through a taste test.
Pick an Apple Tree Through a Taste Test
This post has been updated on August 25, 2014 with new graphics and links. 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!

Enjoying the End of Summer

End of Summer Pool
It’s hard to get excited about fall topics when the temperature is staying in upper 90s and the pool is still conveniently open. We are taking advantage of our September heat wave when we can. However, now fall is officially here, and we celebrated it with some yummy apple treats while sneaking some science into them.

Who Was Johnny Appleseed?

Johnny Appleseed
Smarty asked me who was Johnny Appleseed, and we read The Story of Johnny Appleseed by Aliki. Frankly, she didn’t care for illustrations, but the story itself was rather interesting. It’s hard to imagine the time where apples were not growing everywhere in the United States, and we learned a few things about a person behind the legend. Smarty was very pumped up about the idea that apples can be grown from seeds and wanted to try it at home.

Which Tree Would We Grow?

I decided not to disappoint my preschooler by telling her that it’s difficult to grow a tasty apple tree from seeds, and instead we discussed what tree we would like to grow. For the first time Smarty actually paid attention in the store to notice that it has an amazing variety of apples. We chose three for a taste test:
Setting up apple taste test
We whipped up a delicious cream cheese apple dip and proceeded to taste every apple with and without a dip. I asked Smarty to use as many descriptive words as she can for texture, smell and taste. Smarty certainly was not a fan of sour Granny Smith apples – she described them as sour, sharp and “not ripe”. Fuji was a winner in our taste test for both of us – we agreed that it was both the sweetest  and the juiciest.

Growing Apples from Seeds

I found the instructions on how to grow apples from seeds on Wikihow and they seemed simple enough. We were careful not to break seeds while cutting apples, cleaned them and dried them, then put them in the fridge. Alas, our apple seeds didn’t sprout – perhaps a sapling apple tree is somewhere in our future (updated to say that we ended up getting a lemon tree instead).

Your Turn:

What kind of apples are favorites in your house?

More Fall Activities For Kids?

Follow my Pinterest board Fall Activities for Kids Follow Natalie Planet Smarty Pants's board Fall Activities for Kids on Pinterest.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Math Links – Math Rack


One of the first things Anna asked to do while she recovered somewhat from her travel ordeal is to play on the computer. I was curious to see how much of DreamBox exercises she remembered after 2 weeks break. Wisely she chose activities that were a snap for her – anything that involves manipulating the numbers below 20. Her favorite virtual manipulative in DreamBox is “a math rack”. It looks like an abacus with two Sep26_Counting lines, each containing 10 beads. I have never seen it in real life, but one of our close friends in Germany sent her a present that she excitedly called “a math rack”. It’s a set of 20 beads with alternating sets of 5 red and 5 blue beads that is set on a long sturdy string. Anna kept playing with it on and off all day saying I am practicing with my math rack. It would be very easy to do at home for anyone so inclined – I actually feel kind of silly for not thinking of it before.

Come and share your math adventures with Math Links hosted by Joyful Learner.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Back Together

Sep26_Homecoming Finally the family is all together again! Unfortunately, Anna started her homecoming day by throwing up in the middle of the night and staying up most of the night. It’s not clear whether it was stress, excitement or a stomach bug, but she was clearly miserable when I met her and papa in the airport. It was as if she wanted to be excited, but just didn’t have energy for it. She bounced back somewhat when we came home, and her usual “bubble” was coming back. In the morning she was acting really tired and “not herself” again, but after demolishing her pancake breakfast she seemed to perk up again and even wanted to take her scooter for a short ride. I guess we are going to watch it – at this point I am not so sure that she will make it to school tomorrow. It looks to me that she is fighting some virus even though she doesn’t have a fever. In the meantime, my husband found all kinds of faults of cosmetic nature with our A/C and heater installation – his level of attention to details is a lot higher than mine. I suppose some of them will be fixed next week, and he will have to live with some others. I wish daughter came back healthy, but I am very glad to have family together again and hoping that we’ll settle back into routine soon.

Raising an Only Child – Part 2


In comparison to Europe, American culture seems to bear a lot more grudges against only children and their parents. Nobody stops twice asking Do you plan to have another one? question and explaining to you how bad it is for the child to grow up without a sibling. Some time ago I stumbled upon The Only Child: Debunking the Myths article on It explains fairly well how the whole idea of only children as lonely, selfish and maladjusted individuals came about. What amused me was another epithet that was added to the standard list – single children tend to be overly intellectual. Apparently, it’s as bad for anyone to be “overly intellectual” in America as it was in the former Soviet Union. But I digress. One thing is clear and highlighted in the article – “studies showed that singletons aren't measurably different from other kids — except that they, along with firstborns and people who have only one sibling, score higher in measures of intelligence and achievement.” Why? The article and experience (both as a single child and a mother of one) tell me it’s because the expectations are higher. Single children are given undivided attention, but as Luke put it, “Much will be required from everyone to whom much has been given”. I do have high expectations of my daughter – not necessarily in the form of tangible achievement, but in how I expect her to behave and how I expect her to interact with people around her. I want her to be confident but respectful, I want her to believe in her abilities and I want her to believe in benevolent and plentiful Universe. The danger that I see is not in whether she will be selfish and maladjusted, but whether she ends up feeling pressured. Luckily, so far she has been pretty successful in pushing back when she feels pressure – a true daughter of her father. I hope to continue to balance love and expectations as we go through an adventure of raising an only child in the culture that is so different in many ways from our own.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What My Child Is Reading – September 25, 2010

I am looking forward to getting my daughter back later today! Life has been busy this week both for me and for her and grandparents in New Jersey. I am sure she has been reading something, but I didn’t get to know what she was reading. I do know that she has 25 new library books waiting for her when she gets home. A lot of these books were chosen from recommendations of people who generously share their reading choices in this book carnival. So go ahead and share – what are your children reading this week? Linky is open all week!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Week in Review – September 24, 2010


It’s been another busy week both for me here and for Anna in New Jersey. We have a new A/C and heater now, and an A/C works a lot better than the one we had before. This is exciting. However, the whole house was turned upside down and covered in dust, and I am very happy that Anna was not here to “enjoy” this construction. Now I am trying to get this work through city inspection before everyone is back. In the meantime, Anna had a lot of fun with Babushka and Dedushka. Little Ms Social enjoyed visits and presents from many friends of my parents. There was a lot of crafting too as well a visit to the New Jersey Children Museum. Despite all the fun, Little Mouse is ready to come home. I can tell this from the fact that our phone conversations are getting longer. Two and a half weeks were long enough for all of us, and I am looking forward to having my family back together on Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tag Game Or A Little Bit About Me


Oh no! I’ve been tagged twice in the past couple of days through a game that is spreading through my part of blogosphere. I am supposed to answer some questions, ask some more questions and tag other bloggers with my own questions. So here we go. First a set from Christie at Superheroes and Princesses.

  1. What is your favorite fictional book? Tough question, but I thought about the book that I enjoy rereading many times – Harry Potter.
  2. What was your college major?  System Engineering (I had so many math-related classes that my BS in System Engineering back home is equivalent to  MS in math here)
  3. If you could visit one place in the world, where would  you go? New Zealand is very high on my wish list followed closely by India
  4. What is your biggest challenge as a mom? Working full time and parenting full time at the same time.
  5. What did you eat for breakfast today? I always have the same breakfast – oats with cranberries and nuts and coffee
  6. What kind of music do you listen to most often? I like soundtracks from the movies and musicals, but now I mostly listen to Anna’s music
  7. What is your least favorite chore? Cleaning bath tubs and shower doors. Even toilets are better
  8. Pretend that money is no object and you need a new outfit; where would you go to buy it?  Probably Nordstrom Petites

Now on to questions from Susana who writes Our Homeschool Fun:

  • What do you worry most about (that is, if you are a worrier like myself)? I am a worrier all right :) Mostly I worry about health of everyone in the family and whether we will be around to watch Anna grow up.
  • What is the one food you could not give up (and yes, chocolate is a food group)? Hmm… Coffee. Every time any diet improvement program recommend dropping coffee, I stop reading.
  • What is something that you do not like doing on a daily basis, but you do anyway? Going to work :)
  • What meal do you cook most for dinner? Meat-veggie-starch-sauce combo
  • How many times per week do you cook on average--a real meal, Eggos and/or chicken nuggets do not count:-). 2-3 times, and my husband cooks too.
  • Do you have a tattoo?  (and no, for the record, I do not :-) ) No
  • Who is your favorite children's author? I cannot really highlight one, but we liked every book by Kevin Henkes
  • What is your favorite fragrance, ie, perfume, body splash, lotion? I am partial to J’Adore
  • What is your favorite nice place to eat out without kids? Local restaurant called La Fondue (french, of course :))

And finally I have a few questions of my own:

  • 1. What makes your family different/unusual?
  • 2. Do you have “pet names” for your children? What are they?
  • 3. If you could meet one historic person, who would it be?
  • 4. What is one thing that you hope your child will never do?
  • 5. Do you wish your partner was more involved with children?

I will not tag anyone directly, since a lot of people are tagged already, but you are welcome to respond in comments or copy questions to your blog and keep the tag game going.

Preschool Pack Giveaway

Sep13_GiveawayI’ve been on “mission reorganization” this past couple of weeks and found some “buried treasures” that my daughter outgrew. So I decided to offer this “preschool pack” as a giveaway. It includes:

  • Colors and Shapes workbook from Target – new
  • Beginning Sounds workbook from Target – first three letters used, the rest is clean
  • Blue Clues Colors, Shapes and Opposites Workbook
  • Same or Different Flashcards from Target
  • Numbers FlashCards from Target
  • Reader Rabbit Preschool Computer Game – Sparkle Star Rescue.

Here is what you can do to win my giveaway:

  1. 1. Leave me a comment telling me who it is for (one entry)
  2. 2. Follow me via Google Friend Connect (on the right side of my blog) – one extra entry
  3. 3. Blog or twit on my giveaway – one extra entry.

The giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents and will close on September 30.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Exactly Do We Do for Geography?

image Mar8_WorldTravel_2

Since my daughter is not even 4 yet, I don’t expect her to have any sort of mastery in geography. Yes, we do look at maps and talk about countries, oceans and continents, but I don’t really expect her to point out any countries on the map and I expect her even less to label blank maps. My goal is just to give her “a taste” of geography, and I intend to revisit places on the map as many times as she wants to. For example, we have already “visited” Germany, Israel and Egypt twice, because she wanted to learn more about these places.

I usually prepare for geography theme in advance, because the books take a while to arrive to our library if they are ordered through our interlibrary Link+ system. Still, it’s awesome that I can find almost any book in California-Nevada libraries. So I go to and search for books with the name of the country in the title. Then I refine my search to select only books for children age 4-8 and try to find something that my daughter might like. In the beginning I tried some books like ABC of country X or Discover the World alphabet, but they all turned out to be too complex to hold Anna’s interest. Now I usually try to find one fiction and one non-fiction book about the country and take it from there.

We also try to literally taste the country by selecting a recipe from its national cuisine. It’s not difficult with our friend Google. Anna likes to say, we need to ask Internet, she knows everything. I was lucky to find German, Indian, Japanese, and Mexican dishes that were easy to make and they were even accepted by my picky eater.

I try to incorporate theme crafts, but since Anna is not particularly interested in the crafts, it is “hit-and-miss”. The best places for country-based crafts I found so far were DLTK Countries and Cultures and Activity Village crafts. Generally, it works best when I give Anna a list of possible crafts together with a picture of a completed craft, but to be honest, I rarely have that kind of time.

In addition to cooking, reading and crafting we play. We play travel, we pretend to be in the country, we pretend living in this country, we talk about famous places of that country. We don’t bother learning the flags, the capitals or even a lot of facts about the country – sometimes these things are mentioned in the books we read, but I don’t think it’s important for a four year old to know trivia facts. I just want her to be aware how big the world is, how many places are there to visit and how much fun it is to learn something new about them.

Come and share your adventures in time and space at History/Geography Exchange hosted by Children Grow, Children Explore, Children Learn.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Our Favorite Math Books

Since Anna is still away with grandparents (and has a lot of fun), and I have some time, I thought I share top 10 of our favorite “living math” books in my Math Links post. We own some of them and borrowed others from the library.

Baby books: My First Number Lift-the-flap book was very popular and even now Anna refuses to put it and its sisters (My First Word book and My First ABC book) in storage. Twelve Hats for Lena was a good introduction into months of the year and holidays of the year.

Counting books: Strangely, I don’t recall any counting books that Anna really liked and asked to read many times. One book that stands out is Chicka-Chicka 123 that is as brilliant as its well-known sister Chicka-Chicka ABC. What I like about it is that counting doesn’t stop with 10 as in many other counting books.

Counting to 100: We had two stand-outs in this are that Anna really liked. One is an excellent collection of poems Counting Our Way to 100th Day and Emily’s First 100 Day of School.

Patterns and Shapes. Anna’s picks here are The Greedy Triangle and Pattern Fish (and other books by Trudy Harris). I have to give honorary mention to Three Pigs, One Wolf, Seven Magic Shapes. I thought that the book was brilliant, but Anna didn’t care much for the story, she found it “too scary”.

Money and Measurements. Anna was in love with Carrie Measures Up from Math Matters series. She liked every book we tried from these series, but not quite as much as Carrie. MathStart by Stuart Murphy is hit-and-miss with us, but we found some gems in that series as well including The Penny Pot that deals with manipulating coins and addition.

Love of Math. We both absolutely loved Missing Math book by Loreen Leedy. I seriously think that it should be a required reading in kindergarten to show children how important math is. We read a couple of other books by the same author, but they are geared towards a somewhat older audience.

Come and share your math adventures with Math Links hosted by A Joyful Learner. And I would like to know: What are your favorite math books?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Raising an Only Child – Part 1

Natural Bridges - Feb_115

I am an only child – something that wasn’t unusual in my time and place. In fact, I am surprised that anyone in my native city of Minsk had more than one child living in tiny apartments that were often shared with grandparents. When I was a child, I sometimes would tell my mom, Mama, let’s play a game and pretend that you have 6 children and they are all the same age as me. To which my mother would respond, You know, I am a human, not a cat. Still, I wrote a lot of stories where I would have siblings and we would all have adventures together. That said, I don’t remember myself ever being lonely. I had friends and I was kept very busy with homework and extracurricular activities. I always enjoyed and treasured time to myself, inventing my own games, writing my own stories and living in my own world. I remember writing my vision of the year 2000 when I was about 14. Everything was clear in my mind – I will be awfully old, almost as old as my mom. She was 34 then, I would be 32 in 2000. I will have my own apartment in the city I was born, I will be an engineer like my parents, I will be married and will have two children, maybe three.

Fast forward to 2000. I was once-divorced, living with my boyfriend in France, and we were not exactly ready to have children together. The only thing that materialized from my teenage vision is graduating from the same college that my parents went to. At that point of time I wasn’t even sure that I want to have children at all – life has been busy with its ups and downs, and I didn’t feel settled enough to consider children.

When I met my husband, we discussed children early in our relationship. We both agreed that we want children, and we both agreed that one will be enough. Why did we go for “one by choice”? It might be difficult for many people here to understand, but mostly because we were content with where we were in our lives. We both had successful careers, friends, interests. We wanted to share our lives with a child, but having two or more “back-to-back” seemed like something that we wouldn’t be able to take on. We have seen enough households with young children – chaos, toys everywhere, never ending work and juggling responsibilities. I know that many women take it on gladly and make it work, and sometimes I think that maybe I could do it too if I stayed at home full time, but… I am still happy with the way things are. We have poured our energy, our time and our love into this new human being that we brought into this world almost four years ago. We love watching her grow and change in front of our eyes. Do I have concerns about how she will be affected by her “an only child” status? Stay tuned for the next post in this series.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What My Child Is Reading – September 18, 2010

My parents were well prepared for their granddaughter’s visit, and a big stack of library books was waiting for her in her room. All is well in Anna’s world when she has many new books to read, and someone willing to read to her when she feels a little lazy or tired. I asked my parents to tell me which books were her favorites this week, and all four looked like excellent finds to me. I hope we can reread them here together. I will not write any descriptions, since I haven’t read the books myself. If you click on each image, it will bring you to an Amazon page with its reviews.

Children Around the WorldSomething from NothingDollhouse Fairy  

 Discover and Explore





And since I have more time to myself than I ever had in the last four years, I am enjoying my own adult fairy tale – Enchantment. It was recommended by Ticia from Adventures in Mommydom when she was reviewing her favorite Sleeping Beauty tales. I am in the middle of a tale and it’s hard to put down, especially since the action takes place in Ukraine and all characters speak Russian (well, ancient Slavonic, anyway). Great read for fantasy lovers, including children who are old enough for “nudity and sexual references”, and you might also learn a thing or two about ancient history of Slavic people.

What are your children reading this week? Link up and share your picks – the linky is open all week.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Week in Review – September 17, 2006


I cannot claim that the first week of “time to myself” dragged on. It flew by rather quickly with work, reading and trying to reorganize certain things in the house while living in the middle of a major construction (we are using the time to completely rip out and relocate our air conditioner and heater). I’ve been hopping here, and Anna has been hopping in New Jersey. I talk to her every night, and she seems to be in a great mood. She hasn’t asked when it’s time to go home yet, and she seems to enjoy “Russian school”. Yes, my parents are taking her to a professional teacher of Russian, and it’s too funny to listen to her saying Russian words to me on the phone. I will definitely keep her Russian going at home. Maybe I should send her to Russian school here together with her papa, so he can pick up some Russian too :)

Sep11_AnnaPlayingGoing to grandparents is almost like a trip to the toy store. Neighbors and friends loaned some of their children’ toys, and my parents also bought her many toys. As Anna aptly put it, Babushka is spoiling me. She gives me toys for no reason, but I like it. What’s even better, grandparents are also happily fill the role of playmates, something that my adult-oriented child enjoys quite a bit. I am very happy that all of them having so much time playing together.


Of course, my mom is making sure that Anna is not “slacking”. There are all kinds of arts and crafts and, apparently, letters that are written and postcards made, but it’s supposed to be a big secret for me. And, luckily, a good library is close, so she is reading a lot as well. My mom got a few Young Cam Jensen books in the library, and now Anna is very interested in training her memory. I will share some other of her picks tomorrow.

This week I am not linking to Preschool Corner, but you can hop over to Homeschool Creations to learn what others did this week.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

StArt – Follow That Map

image Follow That Map

I understand pretty well that my daughter will not remember many facts or skills from trying something just once. That’s why I have certain books that I keep bringing from the library every three months or so for a sneaky “review” of certain concepts. Follow That Map is one of those books. We both liked it very much first time we read it. It’s very beautifully done and has a simple story of the kids looking for their pets. Each page has a map – first of their neighborhood, then of their town, etc. Each page also has some questions that kids can answer looking at the maps.

Sep7_Map The follow up to this book was completely Anna-driven. She likes to play travel and expeditions, and during one of her games her characters “got lost” in the kitchen. I suggested to make them a map. Anna immediately grabbed paper and pencils and started making it. Her latest favorite craft material is a cheaper version of Bendaroos called Flexa Fun sticks (I got them at Michael’s). So her map was a very dynamic map made out of Flex sticks, and she kept rearranging map pieces on the paper as her game progressed. This girl really likes to be in charge of her world :)

Come and share your books and story stretchers with StArt hosted by A Mommy’s Adventures.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Geography Is Important To Me

image Feb4_Colorful_worldI loved to travel since I was a little child. Every summer my mother and I would travel by train or plane to the south of the former Soviet Union – to swim in the Black Sea and to sun on the overcrowded beaches. When I got older, I also traveled with my father – to visit his brother in Ural Mountains, to go to the small town where my grandparents spent their youth (we went there in 1985, and in 1986 that place became part of Chernobyl disaster zone). When I was in the last year of high school, my mom and I went on a river cruise along the Volga river visiting famous old Russian cities and learning more about “old Russian history” (it was replaced entirely by “new history” but it’s a topic for a separate post). I moved to US after graduating from college and started to make plans to see more of the country. After several years of working as a software engineer in New York City, I took a pay cut and a job of a traveling post-sales consultant. My parents told me, You won’t last 6 months! I ended up traveling for 5 years. I have visited many states of America, livable parts of Canada and about 15 European countries in those five years. It was amazing to see “for real” the Pyramids of Giza, the Niagara Falls, the Eiffel Tower, Santorini, Vatican, Grand Canyon, Jerusalem. I feel very blessed for these opportunities, but I believe my desire to shape my life in this direction was born from early childhood experiences, from reading books about travelers and adventures, from collecting stamps of animals and plants, from traveling with my parents.

I know that there is a school of thought believing that geography needs to be taught from inside out – kind of “Me on the Map” approach. I rather like “personal interest” approach. Of course, at an early age it was more my personal interest – we read a lot of books about the maps, different continents, different countries. Lately Anna usually chooses a country or a place to visit. Sometimes even I hesitate – would a 3 year old make sense of, say, Hoover Dam? But she surprises me again and again with what she retains and how she incorporates her knowledge into her play and her language. Her enthusiasm for travel is obvious in an ease with which she left behind her house and settled at her grandparents’ place. I hope she will keep her passion for travel, real and pretend, for all her life and that she will eventually get to visit many places that are now opening up in front of her in books and movies.

Share your adventures in time and space at History and Geography exchange at History/Geography Exchange hosted by Children Grow, Children Explore, Children Learn.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tiny Talk Tuesday – I Want to Be a Policeman

image A Day at the Police StationAnna loves Richard Scarry books and A Day at the Police Station was one of her favorites last week. Then on the way to the airport we had the following conversation while waiting in traffic:

  • Anna: Maybe I will become a policeman when I grow up. I will take care of traffic jams and cars.
  • Me: It’s an important job. But it can also be dangerous. Policemen deal with people who don’t follow rules.
  • Anna: Oh, don’t worry, mama, I will stand on the sidewalk, of course. And I will build myself a motorcycle.
  • Husband: Out of what?
  • Anna: Out of sticks and straw and leaves and mud. Sticks for the handles, and straw for the saddle….. Oh, and it won’t have an engine, so it will be rather a bike.
  • Husband: And the wheels?
  • Anna (after a pause): Hmm… Wheels are tricky… Maybe I will just buy wheels.

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

Monday, September 13, 2010

Math Links – Counting By 10.

A Fair Bear Share

With all DreamBox playing that Anna has done recently her understanding of place value definitely took off. I think to myself that I’ve seen that virtual abacus a few times too many lately, but she is plodding through the exercises that make her build bigger and bigger quantities on an abacus, recognize them at a glance and match them to their digital representations. We do “warm up exercises” before playing on computer. We use real abacus and review counting by 10s and recognizing ones. It’s still tough for Anna on the quantities over 50, but she is progressing very quickly. She can also now count money correctly with dimes and nickels, so some of her DreamBox knowledge transfers into practical activities as well.

We also read A Fair Bear Share from MathStart series. Again, this book had a good story, and it also contained a fair share of math. When I saw the title I thought that it will be about fractions, but it turned out to be about collecting things for a pie and counting berries, seeds and nuts by 10. A more complex part was carryover addition, but we didn’t focus on that. Anna really enjoyed the book and read it on her own many times last week. She was also begging to make a blueberry pie, so we had to discuss the fact that certain fruits are seasonal, because their plants bear fruit at different times of the year. Maybe we will make an apple pie instead when she is back.

Come and share your math adventures with Math Links hosted by Joyful Learner.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Quiet House


It’s quiet in the house this week. For some strange reason I never liked background music. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have any sort of music playing device (except radio and TV, of course) at least during some periods of my childhood and we didn’t have any musical instruments in our tiny apartment. My mom attended music school, but apparently she did it more because her parents wanted her to go rather than because she loved playing a piano. I think the first time I heard her play was when my father and I gave her this keyboard as a birthday gift about 10 years ago.

I am tone deaf, and I had a very bad luck with music teachers in school. I didn’t even sing in the choir, because I happened to be sick when it was forming for my year. Of course, I had my favorite music when I was older, but I wasn’t wild about bands or going dancing as some of my girlfriends. All in all, I had a very “quiet” life until first my husband and then our daughter came along. My husband loves music and plays several instruments. He also took dancing lessons (another thing that I was never good at). I certainly hope that Anna inherits his music abilities, but so far it rather looks like she took after me. She is not naturally graceful, and when she “dances” – it’s really more like jumping around. She knows a lot of nursery rhyme songs, but it’s too funny to hear her singing them – even I know that the tune is off.

Still, I want to bring more music into her life. I am not talking about playing an instrument, but simply about listening to more music at home. We are kind of stuck in a rut with a few CDs of nursery rhyme songs and a few Raffi CDs. So now I have time and I have an iTunes gift card to expand our music library. All I need is your help. Share with me – what are some of your children’s favorite musicians/songs? We might try your choices here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What My Child Is Reading – September 11, 2010

This was a shorter reading week for us, since Anna left on Wednesday night to visit her grandparents, but we just had enough time to finish all our library books. Here are a few of our favorite picks:

Old Bear's Surprise Painting

I wish we could do a story extension project on Old Bear’s Surprise Painting, but we didn’t have any time for involved art this week. The illustrations are beautiful, and the story will probably work for children between 2 and 5. All the toys pick a pattern to paint, not all of them are happy with their work, but their splashes and stripes look spectacular when put together by their more experienced friend. We might still revisit this book when daughter comes back from her travels.

Every Autumn Comes The Bear

We read several other nature books by Jim Arnosky before, but Anna was not very interested in them. However, she loved Every Autumn Comes the Bear and read it both with us and independently. I tried to discuss details of illustrations, but she just wanted to hear the story again and again. I think most of her interest in bears comes from The Little House in Big Woods – mostly she wants to hunt them and taste bear meat.

Dont Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late

This was Anna’s favorite book for independent reading this week – she informed me that I don’t need to read it to her since she can read it herself. I browsed through it when she wasn’t home, and was wondering if Anna feels sorry for the pigeon or delights in her power over him. I suspect the latter is true – she usually likes rules and especially likes to enforce them for others. Not surprisingly the book made it to her bedside shelf of favorites.

Bunny Money

Bunny Money was wildly popular this week. Anna kept reading this book many times on her own, and we also played store several times. Anna didn’t like the fact that the characters spent all their money, but was relieved by the ending of the story. She told me, I don’t want to spend any money, because I love money too much, and I already have too many toys. Oh, and Babushka (grandma) will have new toys for me, because she loves to spoil me. So true!

What are your children reading this week? Please link up and share – linky is open all week.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Week in Review – September 10, 2010

preschool cornerAnna is 3 years 10 months old. 


It was a short week for us, since on Wednesday night Anna and her papa flew to New Jersey, where she will stay with my parents for the next two weeks. She was very excited about the trip, and I think that she will have a lot of fun. It was interesting to see how she knew exactly what to expect in the airport. So far she loves flying, and she even slept on her red-eye flight (same cannot be said about my husband who continued to Germany on the same day). I will miss her, but I am also very excited about her chance to spend extended time with her grandparents and get to know them better. Hey, maybe she comes back and speaks fluent Russian! (just kidding, of course).

Sep4_ReadingReading. Anna doesn’t want to read any early reader books from Step Into Reading or Ready to Read series. She says, But I can read already! The only series that she accepts is I Can Read, and they also tend to have more interesting stories and more aligned with her reading level, even the ones that are marked “Level 1”. She can also read any picture book that captures her interest regardless of the amount of text on the page.

Sep5_Lego3 Math. Anna spends a lot of time building with her Lego, and sometimes she is very focused on building something with patterns and symmetry. We also played another game with money where she was selling me her creations, and this time she was brave to price some of her favorite pieces higher than 5 cents. Her number sense is getting stronger every day, and she often makes up her own addition problems and solves them.


Prewriting and Fine Motor Skills. Anna’s preK class is focusing a lot more on writing this year. Every time she goes to school she brings back a worksheet. Her level of effort on the worksheets screams, OK, I’ll do it just to humor you, since she is not a big fan of worksheets. At home she doesn’t write much, but she enjoyed making little pipecleaner people with me. They were really tiny, since they had to fit on the domino furniture that she put together. So much for teaching her playing the game!


Other. We didn’t do much in area of science – we used the last warm weekend to go to the pool, visit Gilroy Gardens – an amusement park for little kids and to barbecue with a family who we met at the pool. They turned their backyard in a nice vegetable garden, and Anna was very excited to pick her own tomatoes. I am determined to have our garden figured out next year too.

To share your learning weeks, visit Preschool Corner at Homeschool Creations.

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