Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It’s A Wonderful Time Of The Year

monthly goals at mama smiles


December is upon us – my favorite time of the year. I love Thanksgiving and winter holidays (that also includes my own December birthday :)). I am very grateful that I didn’t have to travel as many of my work colleagues this week. They headed out to the big customer event in Barcelona. I would love to visit Barcelona but not in the first week of December. As most of my readers know, we are a very secular family, but in December we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. To me these holidays are not about religion but about our heritage and new traditions that we are establishing as a family. It’s time to get together with friends and to give to others. I think Nov25_TurkeyI  accomplished one goal  of November just in time to enjoy my holidays even more. I reduced my online time by reducing the frequency of my blogging and reducing the number of blogs I read and comment on. I am enjoying my unstructured time with Anna and I enjoy seeing more spontaneous creativity on her part. Our Thanksgiving was very quiet this year, but I still insisted on making turkey – my first one in the last 10 years. I do hope that next year my parents will visit us again, and I can give turkey making back to my mom. I missed them this year!


My goals for December:

  1. 1. Enjoy the season – slow down and stay in the present.
  2. 2. Donate unused clothes and toys to the shelter drive.
  3. 3. Participate in “Giving Tree” at work
  4. 4. Contribute to the charities of our choices – NPR and Unicef.
  5. 5. Bake something every week – I will worry about exercise in January :)
  6. 6. Learn some Christmas songs with Anna – any good suggestions for songs that young children can actually sing? (yes, we listen to religious carols too).

Enjoy your holiday season and share your plans at Mama Smiles.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What My Child Is Reading – November 27, 2010

Two themes were dominating our reading this week. First of all, we read quite a few books about history of Thanksgiving – see them in this post. Secondly, we also read a few books about houses, since we are kind of following reading curriculum from Houghton Mifflin and now we are in Houses theme for the first grade. Essentially I just use suggested reading list and pick books that are available in our library from Teacher Read Alouds and for “Above level” sections. Above level books are usually too easy for Anna, but the content is spot on, so she ends up reading those books many times to herself.

What do people do all day

Anna’s favorite book of the week was yet again What Do People Do All Day?we own it, and she seems to select it every three months or so and pours over selected stories from this book. Right now her favorite is about bread making. Anna always likes books that explains how things work or what people do in a playful manner – unfortunately, she doesn’t connect to Magic School Bus series in the same way, at least not yet.

A House for Hermit Crab

We haven’t read A House for Hermit Crab before even though we seem to be picking up one book by Eric Carle every time we go to the library (Anna has her favorites that she likes to read many times). My favorite part in this book was a lesson on manners. I drew Anna’s attention to how the Hermit Crab had something nice to say to each of the creatures he met in his travels and how nice he was eventually giving his house to a smaller crab. It’s a nice story to read while sitting in a warm house in front of a fireplace.

A House Is a House for Me

A House Is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman is another classic that we already read several times before. The poem is somewhat long (especially if there is “why” and “what if” on every page), but I think it’s great on many levels including advanced vocabulary, classification and creative thinking. Every time we read it Anna has different ideas and different questions about the book, and I really appreciate the books that can grow like this with the reader. I think all three books I reviewed so far belong to this category.

Annie Good Move

Annie’s Good Move is part of Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant. We tried them before, but somehow Anna couldn’t quite connect to the story. Maybe it’s because she is not a big fan of big dogs, and Henry clearly looks like an older child than she is. She seems to enjoy the fact that this story includes Henry’s cousin Annie, so we might try some of the books in the series that talk about Annie’s adventures.

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!


Since Anna could only recall big dinner and grandparents from prior Thanksgiving celebrations, we read many books on Thanksgiving history this year. I wasn’t sure just how well she will take them, but she was quite interested and reread The First Thanksgiving by herself many times. I learned quite a lot myself from reading these books. I don’t expect her to retain most of it, but now we own half of these books, so we can read them next year as well.


In addition to reading about Thanksgiving and playing Thanksgiving, Anna enjoyed her “Thanksgiving activity book” from Enchanted Learning. Some of the pages were intimidating to her, but she gave each of them a few tries by now (I put contact paper over pages). She seems to be more interested in printables when they are bound in a book or presented as a lapbook.


And here is a Thanksgiving story from Anna. I helped her get started by providing the very first sentence.

I am a Pilgrim girl. I sailed on the Mayflower across the wide sea from England. I wear purple shoes, white and purple dress and a white hat (dress colors clearly came from her paper doll). When we first came, we didn’t meet anybody. In winter we didn’t have much food, so many of us died. Only 51 of us survived this terrible sickness (she really said this, I didn’t correct this sentence in any way. But after this she kind of lost focus on the story and I had to return her to it a couple of times with And then? questions). We met first two friends. Then we met more friends. They taught us how to plant corn, and hunt food and catch eels and sea otters. (Me: Sea otters? Anna: Yes, sea otters, and also whales). We hunted wild turkeys and deer when the cold weather came again. And then we celebrated Thanksgiving. The end.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! Come and share your adventures in time and space at History/Geography exchange hosted by Children Grow, Children Explore, Children Learn.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Read and Play - Thanksgiving

We are getting into Thanksgiving mood with great Thanksgiving books for kids and with open-ended play.
Favorite Thanksgiving Books for preschool age and an open-ended Thanksgiving play
This post has been updated on October 15, 2014 with new graphics and round up 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!

Thanksgiving Books

We make a point to celebrate each holiday with books to give our 4 year old a wider perspective on how each holiday originated and how it is celebrated by other families. Here is a selection of books we read this year. Most of them came from our public library, but I placed them into Amazon affiliate widget for your convenience.

I want to highlight a book that was especially popular in our house:
Thanksgiving DayThanksgiving Day by Anne Rockwell illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell is one in the series of holiday books from this mother-daughter team. It belongs in a “gray zone” between fiction and non-fiction – while characters are fictional, the story feels “real” enough to my 4 year old. Smarty liked all the activities in the classroom (which sounds like a small kindergarten classroom) that lead to Thanksgiving celebration. I appreciated the age-appropriate explanation of the holiday and easy art projects that can easily be done as an extension of this book.

Thanksgiving Paper Dolls

My daughter already had simple paper dolls that I printed out for her from Activity Village and some clothes for them. She was thrilled to get special pilgrim clothes for them and was immediately busy creating one of her favorite play scenarios – a “feast”.

Open-Ended Thanksgiving Play

Making Paper Food Smarty immediately decided that she needs to have paper food for her paper dolls. She was pretty thorough in designing a menu for her feast – it had to include all traditional Thanksgiving foods, even those that she herself does not like.

What I loved about this activity was that it was entirely self-directed. I was hanging out with my 4 year old, but she was in charge - creating, narrating and directing action and staying with her scenario for at least an hour or more. This is the type of play that I like best even if it is not as spectacular as an adult-directed “invitation to play”. I could practically see the little wheels turning in her head, and I loved to hear her think through her ideas. We need to have more of those “non-guided” moments in our busy house!

More Thanksgiving Ideas for Kids?

Follow my Pinterest board Thanksgiving.
Follow Natalie Planet Smarty Pants's board Thanksgiving on Pinterest.

Your Turn

What play scenarios are popular in your house at the moment?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What My Child Is Reading

Every week we have some books that Anna reads on her own and some that we read together. Some of them are picture books, some are easy readers. A lot of picture books have a much richer vocabulary than average easy reader chapter books that we tried, and Anna still likes bright pictures and big letters of picture books much better than “boring” chapter books. She is also listening to the audio version of Charlotte’s Web in the car (she asked to listen to the book again as soon as she finished the first pass). She was able to retell the story to me fairly well (I only listened to a couple of chapters since she mostly spends time in the car when I am at work and she is traveling with papa to run errands or to meet friends for playdates). I was worried that she will be upset by the ending, but she seemed to take it in stride and was talking excitedly of Charlotte’s babies and how Wilbur will be raising them.

Dinosaur Potty

Clearly as any other child her age, Anna fell prey to potty humor. She thought that Dinosaur vs. the Potty by Bob Shea was the funniest book ever. After asking me 10 times in a row what “vs.” means, she started to role play this book and practice her potty dance. She found the story absolutely hilarious, while I found it brightly illustrated and amusing, especially after watching Anna’s take on it. Younger kids (2+) will like this book as well.

I am a T Rex

In general I am not a big fan of books that retell TV shows. Unfortunately, Anna begs to differ. She grabbed this I Am a T-Rex book from the library shelf and made both me and my husband read it multiple times. Obviously, it’s the story from the Dinosaur Train show which, ironically, she doesn’t want to watch considering it “too scary”. Now she is convinced that T Rex was yellow with purple spots – ugh! Not my favorite of the week.

How Rocket Learned to Read

This is one book in this review where Anna and I wholeheartedly agreed – we loved it. How Rocket Learned to Read is written by one of our favorite authors and illustrators Tad Hill. It is funny and touching at the same time. It also rings true for me – sometimes a well selected book and a good teacher can do amazing things for the most reluctant student. Illustrations are beautiful too. I highly recommend this book.


We disagreed again on Earthsong by Sally Rogers. I couldn’t make this song work either as a song or as a rhyme, and I also couldn’t quite understand the random order of numbers used in the text. Anna, on the other hand, kept sleeping with this book and refused to return it to the library for the third week in a row (I had to renew it). Each spread has one endangered species, and I think Anna was attracted by the illustrations of mother/babies animals. She did have a lot of questions on the text but was not interested in the last page that gave a summary information on endangered species from the book.

I took a walk

“Honorable mention” goes to I Took A Walk by Henry Cole. The text of the book is pretty simple, but there are four habitats featured in the book – forest, meadow, creek and pond. Each habitat is like a “look-and-find” picture, but it’s not terribly busy. In the end of the book there is a visual clue showing each creature in each picture. It was very useful for me, since I couldn’t identify some of the insects correctly. Anna was very interested in the book, but she only read it with me.

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Week In Review – November 19, 2010

Anna is 4 years 1 months old

Nov18_BerriesWe had a great week and took advantage of the last days of good weather before a rainy weekend. Anna’s preschool theme was farm,and at home we wrapped up Australia with Australian lapbook and with watching Wiggly Safari DVD that was filmed in Australian Zoo. My new resolution not to set up “blogworthy” activities made me feel that we had a lot more quality time together, and I enjoyed watching Anna creating her own activities and games (she always does it after she feels that I paid enough attention to her :)).


Writing. I liked the ideas presented in Raising Lifelong Learners where the author was suggesting to use writing for young children in game context. Anna decided to plant a seed while playing outside (make it about a hundred seeds), watered them carefully and made a sign for papa, to make sure he doesn’t step on my plants. It was interesting to see how she knew exactly how to make her sign – with a craft stick sandwiched between two pieces of paper.


Self-directed crafts. One evening Anna brought some sticks from outside and announced that she wants to make stick dolls and then dress them with construction paper outfits. Again, she was very certain as to how she wants to do them and worked very hard trying to put them together with a scotch tape. She used pipecleaners to make heads for them. She didn’t want to ask for help and was somewhat upset to discover that her dolls are falling apart too easily, but I think it was a great chance for her to build something of her own design on her own.

Harry Potter 7

Personal highlight of the week was seeing Harry Potter 7 movie on Thursday before it opened for general release. I am a big fan of Harry Potter books, and I was excited when a friend of ours presented us with this treat to see the evening preview while another friend babysat Anna. I was a bit disappointed that many of the book side story lines were dropped, but it was still a good movie. I am already looking forward to Part II that will be out next June, and I am also looking forward to the time when Anna can read and enjoy first Harry Potter books.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Australia Lapbook

We are off to Brazil in our geography journey, but to wrap-up our 3 week “virtual stay” in Australia, I put together a lapbook for Smarty. It’s my first foray in lapbooking, and  as I was making it I kept wondering as to how some people manage to cram them full of stuff. Our lapbook is fairly simple, but I wanted to share the resources we used:
Page 1: An envelope with a postcard from Australia that we received from Inspiration Surrounds, Creativity Abounds  and Australian cards from Target geography and animal packs – Urulu, kangaroo and koala. Smarty was not interested in them at all so far.
Nov12_Lapbook3 Inside (Page 2 – Page 3) we have:
I put contact paper over printables, so they can be used more than once. So far Smarty did word search and dot-to-dot and expressed no interest in coloring, drawing or writing.
Page 4 was by far the most popular. I printed out Australian outfits for these paper dolls. I added “paper straps” to outfits to hold them on the dolls, but they made it too difficult for Smarty to keep clothes on, so I ended up buying removalble glue dots and stuck them on the dolls. Daughter has a lot of fun dressing and undressing her dolls – now they are all ready for the trip to Amazon rainforest. And, by the way, she colored a koala and a kangaroo on this page using dot markers – original coloring page came from here.
My opinion about this project is mixed. Smarty didn’t use it as much as I expected, at least not yet. On the other hand, I think it will be a fun memory of her “visit” to Australia, and I enjoyed putting it together. Perhaps she will enjoy looking through all these materials and doing activities when she feels like it. I am yet to decide whether I am going to put one together for Brazil. On the off chance any of my readers are in Brazil and interested in postcard exchange, please let me know :) Come and share your adventures in time and space at History/Geography exchange hosted by Children Grow, Children Explore, Children Learn.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Too Much Blogging Can Be Bad For You


I had a long talk with my husband yesterday about my blogging habits. It was long coming since he was never comfortable about me sharing so much of our lives over Internet. It was not the conversation I wanted to have on a gorgeous Sunday day. But it also helped me realize that I developed a serious blogging addiction disorder (also known as BAD). I am bending over backward figuring out “bloggable” activities, I am running around with a camera trying to capture a shot or two for my blog, and, the worst of all, I am not listening to my daughter or my husband. I am irritated when she doesn’t want to do the activity I so “thoughtfully” prepared for her, and yet again I am letting my own ideas dominate the time we spend together. I am not planning activities for the three of us to do together, since I know that I won’t be able to put them on my blog. Then I am surprised that my daughter always comes to me with What will we do now? question and marvel at how she is a lot more self-directed when my husband is in charge of her.

So here is what I plan to do. I plan to stop blogging daily. I will continue to keep WMCIR linky, and I will probably also keep “A Week In Review” post where I will try to focus on the things that were truly Anna-driven and not mama-organized. Mama-organized ideas and posts about them are great and helpful for many parents with younger children, but it’s time for my bright four year old to start thinking on her own and come up with her own ideas. It doesn’t mean that she won’t do anything guided, but to be honest, my guided ideas are mostly “borrowed” from other sources. When she creates something worth sharing, I will share it proudly.

This is not a goodbye, just a reflection post about blogging and life. How do you feel about your own blogging habits?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Raising Lifelong Learners

Raising Lifelong Learners

I get majority of my parenting book recommendations from my friend Cat, and they are always excellent. My November book is Raising Lifelong Learners, and I like it so much that I decided to share it with my readers before I finished reading it. One thing that I like about it is written in a conversational manner and doesn’t look like one long lecture. The author Lucy Calkins is a “teachers’ teacher”, but she is also a mother of two boys, and some of her ideas will probably be even more interesting for parents who are raising boys. I found some good tips and tricks in every section, but I was very interested in her views on writing. She is very passionate about encouraging writing just as we encourage talking – recognizing every scribble and every shaky letter as a major achievement and not rushing the process. I had a lot of questions of “but what about spelling?” in my head, and she answered them in a way I could agree with. I also really liked her ideas about play and about fostering work ethic through play. In other words, this book has been informative and inspiring at the same time. I also took away a lot of book recommendations and author recommendations. The book is written more than 10 years ago, but some things never get old.

How about you – have you read any good books lately?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What My Child Is Reading – November 13, 2010

I wonder how it is that I returned a bunch of books to the library, and we still have 44 library books at home. Hmm… Anyway, we had a great reading week between shared reading and independent reading. And, by the way, we are still listening to Little House on the Prairie audio book in the car, I think we are on pass #3 by now. We are off to look for aliens

Anna has been fascinated with aliens lately, and when I stumbled upon We Are Off to Look For Aliens by Colin McNaughton in the library, I picked it up. I was attracted by unusual format of the book where one story arch is replaced by “an insert story” in the middle and then finished in the end with a delightful twist. I was worried that Anna might find the book a bit scary, but she just thought that it’s funny and read it many times to herself. The inside story can also be sung for those who are able and willing to do so.

The great race

This space theme was picked up by The Great Race by Dawn Casey, which was also very popular this week. It’s a legend of how Chinese calendar came about to be. I was very disappointed with the moral of the story – how the cunning and backstabbing Rat was rewarded for winning the race. I had some discussion with Anna that we don’t want to win contests at any cost, but this book seems to send the opposite message. Outside of this, the story is pretty interesting and we might revisit it when we do another stop in China for our country studies (probably around their New Year).

Ugly Vegetables

I guess I am having “Apples to Apples” post today, since Chinese theme from The Great Race carried over to The Ugly Vegetables. I didn’t mean it to happen, but I am glad that our favorites of the week are somehow connected. It’s a book about the family planting Chinese vegetables in a suburban neighborhood while all the neighbors are planting flowers. I am tempted to make a trip with Anna to one of our Chinese grocery stores and look some of those veggies up. Very nice book!

Fathers MothersI always try to find good poetry books for Anna to read once in a while. This collection of family poems by Mary Ann Hoberman is very nice, because it also focuses on the subject every child can understand – families. I only had a chance to read a handful of poems and then Anna took it to her bed. She sometimes quotes from it, so I assume that she is reading the book every night before falling asleep. I wonder what she is thinking of “An Only Child” poem. It lists all the good and bad things about being an only one. I felt that this poem focused too much on negatives, but Anna didn’t say anything. Perhaps she will bring it up out of the blue a couple of weeks later – it happens quite often with some of our books.

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

Week in Review – November 12, 2010

preschool corner


We are getting back on track after all the excitement of Halloween and Anna’s birthday. All the presents are played with, and candy bowl is not filled to the brim any longer. Ironically, time change is tougher on me than on Anna, since I am an early riser. I am still adjusting to it, but she switched to a different bedtime fairly easily, especially because evenings are so dark now. Anna’s school theme this week was Health, and at home we are wrapping up our three week journey to Australia. I also introduced new rule to Anna – now when I come home we do two activities of my choice and then play until dinner time. It allowed us to fit some things that I wanted to do togetherApples to Apples Jr.

Reading.  Anna got Apples to Apples Jr game as a present for her birthday. Suggested age is marked 9+, because the game requires fluent reading and comprehension. We played it this week, and she had a blast. We haven’t had to help her at all, and she could even judge reasonably well (especially, when she didn’t see who put down what, since she tended to favor me in her judging when she saw which card I put down :)). Playing this game showed me again how far she progressed not only in reading but also in comprehension and in her sense for the language.


Drawing/Writing. We don’t push Anna do drawing, writing and coloring – just keep pencils, pens and markers where she can reach them. It’s interesting to see how her drawing becomes more purposeful every week. She also initiates min writing projects more often – like writing new words for her Thankful Tree. I love to see her independent projects even when they look like strips of paper with squiggles on them (it turned out they were band-aids).

Nov10_Rocket Balloons

Other. We try to spend some time outside while the weather is decent. Anna ran into her former classmate during one of our park outings and had fun helping him launch rocket balloons. It’s a great mini-science experiment to see balloons launch up supported both by wind and by the air coming out of them. And how fun it was to try out the pump!

I am linking this post to Preschool Corner at Homeschool Creations.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

StArt – A Thankful Tree

image Thanksgiving Day

As everyone else in US we are gearing for Thanksgiving. Soon after Halloween was over I asked Anna what Thanksgiving is about. After some effort she managed to come up with grandparents are coming, and we will have a big dinner. So we started again with “semi-fiction” books about Thanksgiving. We read Thanksgiving Day by Anne Rockwell last year and revisited it this year. We also read an older book - Our Thanksgiving Book by Jane Belk Moncure (both books Nov9_Tree came from our library). Both books talk about school activities in preparation for Thanksgiving and full of ideas for Thanksgiving crafts. Anna immediately decided on two she really wanted to do – a thankful tree and “Mr Turkey”. I’ve seen beautiful thankful trees on many blogs, and I was planning for a tree with real branches, but since she was anxious to get started on a rainy day I went for a quick tree out of a grocery bag. I bought $1 silk leaves in Target last year, and finally they were good for something. We are adding a few leaves to the tree every day, and Anna writes short words (I help her with spelling) while I write longer words. Her first two thanks were Home and Writing. It’s interesting to see how she Nov7_Tree decides on what she feels thankful for. Sometimes she really thinks about it – parents, playing, toys, not getting lost on the way home (i.e. I am thankful for GPS :))Thanksgiving holiday, cows that give us fresh milk to drink, and sometimes she just looks around and picks objects around her – jump rope, balls, balloons, etc. It’s been several days and her interest in this tree is still going strong. I am looking forward to having a very full thankful tree for Thanksgiving… and then we will do something similar for Christmas :)

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Families of Australia

image Families of AustraliaThis week I brought home two non-fiction movies about Australia. Australia the Beautiful was a bust with Anna – the narration was not appropriate for her age group, and she started fidgeting in about 5 minutes. However, she lapped up a 30 minute movie Families of Australia and asked to watch it three times this week. I enjoyed the movie too – it had two segments. One was about a farmer family raising sheep and another one was about an urban family living in Sydney. Both were narrated by young kids (7 and 8 years) who took us Nov8_Kangaroo through a normal day in their lives. There were a few facts about Australia’s history and nature thrown into narration, but Anna was mostly interested in people and what they do. There was one point in the movie where the boy was talking about immigration to Australia and how people from different countries “hope to find a better life here”. Anna suddenly said, “We don’t need to go to Australia, we have a good life here in America!" Of course, next minute she wanted to go and visit there :)

Nov5_Koala We also talked about real families of Australia. We looked at the beautiful postcard that we received from Savannah and her mom Elise who write Inspiration Surrounds, Creativity Abounds blog. We looked at the blog too, but Anna was wiggly and more interested in playing with her koala bear. Technically, it’s not her bear. Her papa got the bear from his parents who visited Australia in their travels around the world. However, papa was nice enough to share his bear with daughter :)

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

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