Sunday, February 26, 2012

A “Real” Afterschool


As many of my readers know, I am a working mom. My husband works part time and picks up Anna from her K twice a week. The other 3 days she goes to a YMCA afterschool program, and we pick her up after 5 pm.

At the beginning we were a bit skeptical about this afterschool program. About 5 dozen kids with ages from 5 to 9 in two relatively small Feb25_Y2rooms seemed like a recipe for chaos. It took Anna about 3 months to get used to this noisy environment, but now we all learned to appreciate the positive side of our YMCA program:

  1. 1. As it often happens, a lot depends on the staff. Our Y program has a very capable director who runs a tight ship with a good crew.
  2. Feb25_Y32. There are a lot of toys, games and books, and they change often enough to keep kids entertained.
  3. 3. There are several men teachers which is great, especially for boys. Kids spend a lot of time outside and learn to play games that require a lot of players.
  4. 4. Y is inclusive and has a few disabled kids. One of them is severely autistic. Feb25_Y4My daughter used to be very uncomfortable around kids with “non-traditional behavior”, but now she learns to understand and accept people who look and behave differently.
  5. 5. Multi-age groups is definitely an advantage for Anna. She likes to hang out with older kids, and they seem to like her. Several times I came to pick her up and she was busy playing scrabble or Apples to Apples with them.
  6. 6. Anna adores “Y clubs”. They have a cooking club on Fridays where they try different things – from salads to cookies, and a different club every 2 months on Wednesdays. Every child has a choice of three Wednesday clubs. Last time she was a writer, now she is in a drama club. I think it’s great that she can try different things with her friends (by the way, about half of her classmates also go to the same Y program) without me having to sign her up and drive her to different activities.

I feel very lucky that so far Anna’s first school year has been such a happy time. She hasn’t been clicking with her preschool mates well, and we’ve been worried. Now it’s entirely different story – she loves being with friends, loves her teachers and approaches every new activity with energy and enthusiasm. I am grateful to her teachers and Y instructors for reaching out and touching her in a big way.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What My Child Is Reading–Usborne Books

I admit that I have no idea what my daughter is reading this week since I am half the world away on a business trip. I do know that she is reading a lot as usual. And I bet that she is pulling out at least one of many Usborne books that we have in our home library. I am not an Usborne consultant (I barely have enough time for this blog!), but my friend Lynn from Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile is and you can visit her store and perhaps pick some of the books that became our favorites over years.

First Experiences

I got Usborne The Complete Book of First Experiences for Anna when she was 3 and we were going on the airplane journey to her grandparents. We have read the book for what feels like a million times since then, and I wrote about it on my blog several times before. It’s still a solid hit, especially the doctor-related stories. I highly recommend this non-fiction book for early preschool age children.

First Encyclopedia of the Human Body

I wrote about Usborne First Encyclopedia of the Human Body lately on my blog. It says 8+, but my 5 year old and I are using it as our current “science book” since she is interested in learning more how our bodies work. She loves checking out Internet resources linked to each page and do experiments. We also have several other books from these series including First Encyclopedia of Science and First Encyclopedia of Our World. I love these books because they are brightly illustrated and give enough information without being completely over the top.

Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do

Usborne publishes a lot of activity books of every possible kind. We got Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do as a generous present from Jen at Chestnut Grove Academy, and I gave the second copy of it in a giveaway. Jen is an Usborne consultant as well, and you can visit her store here. To be honest, I am saving this book “for later” since I want Anna to be able to do these activities more independently than she would be able to do at the moment. The book is rated for 6+ kids.

Lift the Flap Atlas

We also love Usborne Lift-the-flap science books. Luckily, our library has a wide variety of them, and Usborne flap books are sturdy enough to survive library treatment. We do have one in our own collection – Lift-the-flap Picture Atlas. As all Usborne books, it’s beautifully illustrated and chock-full of facts. From time to time Anna pulls it from the shelf for her “pretend” games and travels to different destinations around the globe.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Week In Review–February 19, 2012


AnnaMama_Feb16In our lives… As you are reading this I am hopefully landing in Tel Aviv. Anna is fairly used to me going on business trips, but this is the first trip of this year, and the long one – almost 2 weeks. I am sure though that she will enjoy her time with papa and her Presidents’ week camp next week. They are going to have “musical decades” theme, and I am curious to see how her musical tastes change after that week.


Afterschool. I have been in all day meetings for most of the week and coming home just in time to have dinner and put Anna to bed. She, however, has been very busy. She loved Valentine’s Day celebration and all the cards and candy she got. Then there was Russian, gymnastics, a science night (see below), an art show… I do hope she can catch a nice unscheduled break over the long weekend – papa is much better in just letting her be than I am.


Places we are going. Our district schools are well known for their focus on science. To be honest, I didn’t notice it much so far, but it was more obvious during an annual “science night” conducted by middle schoolers for four elementary schools of the district. Anna was super excited about this event and wanted to visit all “investigations”. She ran out of steam after about 10, and there were 20+ set up. It was interesting to see how many people showed up for this event, even on Thursday night. Our community is very invested in education, and this is reflected in quality and scores of our public schools.


Quote of the week:

  • Me: OK, Anna, it’s time to go to bed. I need to get some things done.
  • Anna: Getting things done is not the most important thing in the world. Love is more important. Love is the strongest thing in the world. Tickle me, mommy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What My Child Is Reading–February 18, 2012


For our “read aloud” this week we started Clementine by Sara Pennypacker illustrated by Marla Frazee. The book is narrated by a plunky third grader that finds herself in trouble more than once every day. She has a very different personality than my daughter, and from time to time Anna begs me to stop reading, because she can envision the results of Clementine’s new “brilliant idea”. But then she begs to keep reading again. I find the book very funny and somewhat similar to Ramona’s series by Beverly Cleary. Definitely worth to look the series up in your local public library! 

I kept The Paper Dragon by Marguerite. W. Davol forThe Paper Dragon Valentine’s Day even though the book is not your regular cute Valentine’s Day fare. It’s gorgeously illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators Robert Sabuda and tells the story of courage and inventiveness. As can be expected, the story is set in China where the main character is expected to perform three tasks to put a fearsome dragon back to sleep. Why did we read it on Valentine’s Day? Read it yourself to find out, but the story is more appropriate in length and content for 5+ children.

How a Book Is Made

As you might have noticed, my daughter loves non-fiction book, and she was very fascinated by How a Book is Made by Aliki. Unfortunately, the book is written almost 25 years ago, and I suspect that the process of book making changed quite a bit since then. For example, an author in the book is typing her book on an old-fashioned typewriter, and not on a computer. Still, it was a good read and made a point that the book is made not just by an author and illustrator but by many other people as well.

Cork and Fuzz

Finally, I wanted to share chapter book series for (relatively) new readers called Cork and Fuzz by Dori Chaconas/Lisa McCue. I was attracted by unusual main characters of a muskrat and a possum and the fact that the first story reminded me strongly of Frod and Toad. The reading level is about 1st or early 2nd grade, which is too easy for my daughter, but the story is engaging, and she by now went through all the books.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine Day–Yay!

Our family is not really romantic and doesn’t go wild for Valentine Day. My husband and I don’t buy flowers or give each other gifts – we agreed on that very early in our dating days. We are quite satisfied with flowers growing in our garden:Feb11_V6
However, we couldn’t resist getting into mad crafting in the days leading to Valentine Day – in addition to 24 Valentines for her school mates, Smarty still had some special Valentines to make.
Feb11_V2Watercolor postcard for someone special. It was my idea. Smarty’s idea was different, so this someone special is getting two cards.
Feb11_V4A picture frame – a surprise for Babushka and Dedushka that sadly still didn’t leave since I didn’t have a chance to get to the post office. So this is a virtual preview.
Feb11_V5Making a heart sun catcher with painted petals from the same flower bush in the first picture.
Feb11_V8”Russian cat” with Russian letters made during her Russian class. Smarty’s Russian tutor actually teaches her reading and writing, not only speaking. Smarty is making speedy progress and surprises me by recognizing all letters and being able to read simple words in Russian.`Feb11_V7And this is another card for “someone special” fully executed by Smarty (except for me cutting out a big heart) complete with an acrostic poem.
I hope that our sweet Smarty is not disappointed about her Valentine’s Day. I am happy that I could be here for her – I was expected to be on a business trip that has been moved by a week. She has so much love lately that every day feels like a Valentine’s Day with her.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Week In Review–February 12, 2012


School. It was another busy week. In school kids were celebrating 100 days of school with games and a lot of math work. I am a little concerned that Anna’s math is not progressing much, since her school level is way lower than she can do. On another hand, she is boldly going after all math challenges presented by her teacher, which shows her confidence in her abilities. She also really enjoys her YMCA afterschool program, especially her cooking club and drama club. I walked on her drama club once when I came to pick her up, and it was a lot of fun to watch. This week Y has an art show and auction to benefit YMCA inclusion programs. We are looking forward to see what the kids were making for the last couple of months.


Afterschool. I’ve been very busy at work, so there was no early pick ups this week. On “papa days” Anna had a playdate and a gymnastics class. Every day she was begging to play on my computer – she loves visiting Moneyville that Learning All the Time wrote about. To be honest, I only sat through her once in this game and decided that it’s OK to just let her travel it on her own. She also helped me cook and is learning to use a sharp knife. I am still nervous about it, but so far so good!


Places we are going. Anna went to a birthday party for her classmate last week that was the longest ever so far – 4 hours. I dropped her off but came back in the end for the snake show. It was pretty amazing and done by a local snake grower who sells his snakes (mostly boa constrictors) all over the United States. In the end he let all his snakes loose and let the kids touch and hold them. Anna just couldn’t get enough and begs for a snake as a pet. Well, I am not ready to raise a rat colony as food for snakes like the guy does.


Quote of the week.

  • Me: How was your playdate with A?
  • Anna: It was fun! We were pretending to poop and pee on each other!
  • Me: Gaak! You two are supposed to be smart kids!
  • Anna: We are smart. We were only pretending. We didn’t even take our clothes off.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What My Child Is Reading–February 11, 2012

Tales from Pinocchio

Our read-aloud book this week was Tales from Pinocchio retold by Helen Rossendale and illustrated by Graham Philpot. I liked that illustrations had no resemblance to Disney story and that the whole story was broken in short chapters that took about 7 minutes to read. This left us time for reading more than one story at night. At first Anna was horrified by Pinocchio’s bad behavior, but at some point she realized that “this is a fantasy book” and started to enjoy it. I think we will be trying other books from “Ten Minute Bedtime Stories” too.

I Wonder Why Lemons Taste Sour

Our second read-aloud book this week (we are reading in parallel with the first one) is I Wonder Why Lemons Taste Sour . This one came from the library, and we own I Wonder Why I Blink book. This book about senses works very well with our science investigations and websites we’ve been using to learn more about senses. I actually learned a thing or two from the questions and answers in this book. It’s targeted towards audience of 5-8 year olds, and I would say this is correct. Anna was delighted to discover on the cover that this series has about 20 different titles and was most interested to get I Wonder Why Soap Makes Bubbles next.

The Dumb Bunnies

The Dumb Bunnies by Dav Pilkey was by far the most popular book of the week. All I can say is that Dab Pilkey certainly knows his audience who values absurd, unexpected and anything toilet-related. Anna loved this book, and it has enough “cultural references” to tickle adults’ fancy too. However, this book might not be for families who avoid certain words or object to crude jokes. If anyone read The Dumb Bunnies, I am curious to hear your opinions in the comments.


Anna’s K book of the week was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. We read it before in the bookstore, and Anna didn’t care much for it. It took some effort to convince her even to read it once, and now she could appreciate the story better. She said she wants to have her own magic pebble to get anything I want, she just couldn’t tell me what this “anything” could possibly be. I’d recommend Sylvester for 4+, since the story is fairly long and intense.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Building With Straws and Pipe Cleaners

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I stumbled upon a new blog The Map Is Not the Territory through the Math Blog Hop that I sometimes follow if I have time. Malke and her daughter were building amazing structures with straws and pipe cleaners, and it was one of those ideas that I just had to try. So late at night I got out straws and pipe cleaners and built Smarty this cube. I was very curious to see what she will decide to do with it. In no time at Feb1_Straws2all she pulled it apart to see how it was done and tried to build something of her own. I had to give her a lot of help in the beginning, and she was mostly sticking with 2D shapes. One day she disappeared with her “building kit” for an hour and finally started to fuss. It turned out that she really wanted to build a soccer goal post, but didn’t know how. We started by looking at the pictures on the Internet and Feb1_Straws3then brainstorming together to decide what sizes we needed and how they should fit together. Then this goal post was constructed, and Smarty insisted that it should have a net. That’s where I regretted that I don’t know how to crochet, because it would be neat to have a crocheted net. We went with paper instead, and, being 3D challenged, I was struggling mightily to figure out how the paper should fit over the structure. I decided that I should demonstrate a lesson in figuring things out and perseverance, and I did put it together eventually. Smarty took a look and informed me that I put the net on the wrong side of the goal post – oops! She still assured me that she loves her goal post and planned a big soccer game with her stuffed animals that is yet to happen. Apparently, stuffed animals first need to get uniforms – and I didn’t have time to even think about them yet.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Science of Sound and Listening

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Sounds All AroundLast week we continued our review of senses by learning more about how our ears work. We read a couple of books from Let’s Read and Find Out series, and played online listening games on Exploratorium website. We actually got a membership to Exploratorium for Christmas but didn’t get a chance to go there yet.


We also conducted a couple of experiments to see how our ears work. One of them was identifying common sounds without looking, and another one was “model eardrum”. We stretched a plastic wrap around a big bowl and placed rice grain on the wrap. Then Anna banged on the cookie sheet/played guitar next to the “eardrum” and we could see rice grains move. She was pretty fascinated to “see” sound. It also made me appreciate sensitivity of our ears, since only very loud noises could make rice grains vibrate.


I found a few videos from Human Body for Children series in our library and we were very pleased with their quality. The videos are less than 30 minutes long, but All About Senses was packed with information and even included some simple and fun experiments. The webpage I referenced above also contains a worksheet with experiments to try and a teacher guide. We might try some of the smell and touch experiments this week for our next topic.

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