The Princess Problem

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As the mom to a four-year-old girl and two-year-old, my house is usually littered with dress up clothes.  I find tutus in the bathroom and crowns in the kitchen.  Sometimes they go through about five outfits (a piece!) in a day.  Then there are fits and tears when I tell them to put on real clothes to go to the grocery store.  Dress up is kinda getting on my nerves.

I know kids should be kids.  They are only young once and all that.  Dress up is great fun and educational, too.  Pretending you are someone else and acting out that role is wonderful for developing creativity and social skills.  So why don’t I want to take a princess to Target?  Well…

The most practical reason is it’s cold outside.  And everyone knows princesses NEVER wear coats!  At least that’s what I hear in my house.  Since no one wants to cover their dress up outfit, let’s just take it off and wear something, you know….with sleeves.  Yeah, I am the meanest mom ever.

And then there is the “pretty” reason (pause to step up on my feminist soapbox).  Girls get a lot of attention for wearing a fancy dress in public.  I don’t think my daughters have ever left the house in a dress or skirt and didn’t hear “Oh, you are so pretty!” or “What a beautiful little princess!”  Do people say that to a girl dressed in jeans?  Not so much.  My girls now think to be pretty you have to wear a dress.  I know there will be many years of clothing-related self-esteem issues in their future….I just don’t want to start that at age two.

And probably the biggest reason I don’t like dress up….I hate princesses.  There.  I said it.  Are princesses really the ideal that we want our daughters to emulate?  My oldest daughter asked me what makes a girl a princess, and I had to explain about family lineage and the ruling class.  Well, not exactly in those words. 🙂  But you know what I mean…why are we glorifying princesses?  Why not celebrate women who actually do something?  Why not try to take the emphasis off of looks and focus on their contribution?  It makes me think of the 10 Real World Princesses drawings.

Sigh.  Stepping down.  Pretend play is important and there is nothing wrong with dressing-up in a fancy skirt every now and then.  I’m not going to ban all Disney princess paraphernalia from my house.  And I didn’t say anything when my youngest daughter wanted to a be, of course, a princess for Halloween.  Although, I was secretly happy that she didn’t know Cinderella’s name and just called her “the blue princess.”  I feel like I’m doing something right. 🙂

Comparison Thinking Game

As my youngest just transitioned from a crib to a big girl bed and now we are working on potty training, there is a lot of “big girl” talk going on in our house.  She likes to play the game, “What can a big girl do that a baby can’t do?”  We read and watched videos talking about how big girls can walk, talk, eat pizza, climb on the playground and babies can’t do any of those things.  It helps her see that she is changing and growing…and it is a good thing!  It’s also the same conversation we had with Big Sis when Little Sis was born.  Comparing themselves to babies makes kids feel proud about their abilities and shows them that they have a special place in the family (even if that cute baby is getting a lot of attention!)

While I was talking about “baby vs. big girl” with Little Sis, my older daughter thought it would be fun to come up with ways they were both alike, too.  Then the girls wanted to compare kids to adults.  What can grown-ups do that kids can’t do?  They gave answers like “Grown-ups can drive.  They can cook.”  You can also flip the question around so one thing isn’t always seen as “better” than the other.  What can kids do?  Kids can fit into smaller places and go on certain rides at the amusement park that adults aren’t allowed on.

Then we branched out to animals.  What can an owl do that you can’t do?  What about an elephant?  It was really funny to hear their answers and thinking.  The older the kids, the more detailed things you can ask them about.  If they are dinosaur experts, ask them to compare a stegosaurus and a pteranodon.  Or ask, “What can a microwave do that a stove can’t do?”

Comparing things and ideas is a skill kids will use many times in reading comprehension and critical thinking.  Think about how many tests say “compare and contrast.”  Why not start practicing that skill early as silly game?  It’s a perfect thinking game you can play in the car, sitting in a cart at the store, or waiting at a restaurant.  Try it out!

As with any educational game, the focus should be on fun.  Ask a questions, give them some hints or offer some ideas, then let them ask you a question.  If they are getting stressed out or bored of it, move on to something else.

Color Scavenger Hunt

A color scavenger hunt is a great activity to do on a nature walk.  Just use markers or crayons to write the color words on a piece of paper.  This way kids will be able “read” if they know their colors.  Then grab the paper and a bag for your treasures, and you’re ready!  Try a color scavenger hunt on a walk around the block, at the park, or in your backyard.  Show toddlers how to compare the object with the color word to see if a leaf is more red or orange.  Elementary kids who already know their colors can still learn with this activity.  Have them write the color words on their own.  Then they can race each other (or a timer) to see who can complete the scavenger hunt first!  Try the scavenger hunt again in a different season to see how the colors and items change.

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If it is too cold for a nature walk, you can also have a color scavenger hunt inside.  Warning: this could make a mess.  I’d do it when toys are already scattered across the floor.  You might as well sort them by color before you put them away, right?  This time I used construction paper to match the colors.

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Leaf Man Activity

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Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert is a wonderful autumn book.  The unique illustrations show people and animal shapes made out of leaves.  What a perfect fall activity!  We headed to the park to gather our materials.  The girls loved picking out leaves, acorns, sticks, grass, pine needles and cones to take home.  I made sure I got doubles of ones they liked so we could make symmetrical arms and legs.  (TIP:  The inside cover of the book provides a cheat sheet of the names of trees, in case you are nature-challenged like me.)

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Start off by recreating designs in the book.  It seems easy, but finding similar shapes and colors and copying a picture can be tricky for little ones.  Elementary kids should be able to do it without help.  Then see if they can make up their own shapes!  Play a game and see if you can guess what animal they are trying to make.

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Talk about symmetry and see if you can make designs with one or two lines of symmetry.

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Play with the leaves and then put them back in nature when you are finished.  I love easy clean-up!  Or you can press the leaf design by putting books on top of it.  Leave it (ha!) for a few days, then iron it between two sheets of wax paper, and you’ll have a longer-lasting shape.

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Ask preschoolers questions about their Leaf Man.  What is his name?  Where would he go on his adventure?  Who would he meet?  What will happen to him in the wind?  Elementary kids might be inspired to write their own Leaf Man story.  They can use their own pressed leaves as illustrations or you can take pictures and print them off.

Stay-at-home Life: My View at 6 Months

I realized I haven’t given an update on my stay-at-home mom life.  It’s been almost 6 months of not working, which is longer than either of my maternity leaves.  So it is officially the longest time I’ve ever had not working.  And it feels….like a vacation from life.

When I was a teacher I was constantly looking at the clock.  Did I have enough time to fit in one more book before lunch?  How many more minutes did we have at recess?  Even being a minute late to pick my kids up from PE was holding up the next PE class that was waiting in the hall.  I felt like I racing the clock every morning to get the kids ready and out the door by 7:15.  And most nights I was also trying to see how many activities I could fit into a few hours before bedtime.  We could stop at the park on the way home…but only for 45 minutes.  What dinner could be fixed in less than 20 minutes?  Each week seemed to go by in a blur because there was never enough time to do all the school stuff, housework, and fun stuff that I wanted to do.

But now I don’t even wear a watch.  The girls get up around 7:00 because they hear Dad leave for work.  They come in and cuddle in bed with me until we get hungry for breakfast.  Before, we only got to have leisurely mornings on the weekends…and now it is Every. Day.  It still blows my mind.  We can go to the park and spend the whole morning.  We can spend forever just watching turtles in the pond because we have no where else to be.  We spend the whole weekend having fun and come back late on Sunday because they don’t have anywhere to be on Monday morning.  It is a completely different life.

There are no “have-to-do’s” in this life.  I look for activities for us to do and I fill our calendar with library story times, puppet shows, trips to the zoo, play dates, and other outings.  But they are all “want-to-do.”  If someone is cranky or it is cold and rainy and we’d rather stay home, we don’t have to go to library story time.  I never had that option with my old job!

One time when my husband was out of town, my youngest got sick and started throwing up about every 20 minutes…from 2:00-4:00am.  So there I was trying to calm her, clean up the mess(es), and also type up sub plans for the next day.  Every time the kids got sick, it was an ordeal trying to figure out who could take off of work.  Now?  Who cares!  I could stay up all night and just watch movies and nap with the girls the next day.  But of course now that they are no longer in daycare, no one gets sick!

This feels like vacation to me, but I’m not exactly lying on a beach soaking up the sun.  I mean, I’m still taking care of two kids ages 2 and 4.  There is screaming, tears, and cleaning up of bodily functions (I am so ready for potty training to be over!)  I lose my patience and get annoyed.  But overall?  Much easier than my former life.  Then I was dealing with 20 kids…plus the 2 at home! Two is always easier than twenty-two, right?  I was trying to be an awesome teacher AND spend enough time with my kids AND somehow keep up with the dishes and laundry.  Take out the job, and it seems very manageable.  I’m no longer tackling 7 loads of laundry on a Saturday because I could never get to it during the week. I’m actually learning to cook because I finally have time to make something.  And I have time to read now!  Before I only read when I was on vacation. 🙂

I don’t mean to diminish stay-at-home moms and say they have it easy.  In fact, when I stayed home with my first daughter on maternity leave, I was more stressed and exhausted than I have ever been in my life.  I was very ready to go back to work.  At that time I considered teaching 20 kids much easier than dealing with the 1 infant at home!  I think it depends on the number of kids you have, their ages and temperaments, your job, plus all the other emotional factors involved in the stay-at-home/working mom decision.  Everyone feels differently.  And even the same person (me) feels differently about it over time.  While I felt it was easier for me to be a working mom a few years ago, I now feel a lot less stressed being a stay-at-home mom.

I’m sure I will go back to teaching in a few years once both girls are in school.  I know I will miss it.  My first year of teaching, I was so happy.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune to have such an amazing job.  I loved my students, my co-workers, and my principal.  I couldn’t believe they were PAYING me to teach kids and play at recess, when I would do that for FREE!  Now that’s how I feel about staying at home with my own kids…because I am doing it for free. 🙂

Learning Activities with Acorns

Kids love going on walks and picking up things from nature.  But what do you with your “nature pile” (as Big Sis calls it)?  On our most recent outing, the girls got obsessed with collecting acorns.  Choose one or two activities to make acorn collecting a teachable moment!

(Common Core Standards appear in italics.  They correlate with specific standards in different grade levels.  These standards are used in almost every school in the country.  Click the Common Core tab above to learn more.)

Toddlers and Preschoolers

  • Count the acorns.  (kindergarten- Count to tell the number of objects)
  • Cut the acorn open and see what is inside.  Science!
  • Glue acorns on paper and make some art with crayons or markers.IMG_7423
  • Try using chopsticks to pick up acorns and put them in a bowl.  Tie the chopsticks together with a rubber band at one end to make it easier.  This improves fine motor skills for writing because holding chopsticks takes the same grip as holding a pencil.
  • Compare numbers by making two groups of acorns.  Have your child guess which one has more acorns.  Then count to see if he was right.
  • Write numbers on the flat surface of acorns without hats.  You do this, not the kids…well unless you have preschoolers with very advanced fine motor skills! 🙂  Mix up the acorns and have your kiddo line up the numbers in order. (kindergarten- Know the number names and count sequence)IMG_7428
  • Play a game with the number acorns.  Put them in a container.  Take turns drawing one out, reading the number, and making up a movement to do that number of times.  For example: Clap five times.  Jump eight times.
  • Write the letters of your child’s name on acorns without hats.  See if she can put the letters in order to spell her name.
  • Make a letter with acorns.  Write a large block letter on a piece of paper.  Then ask your kiddo to line up acorns to fill in the letter.  (kindergarten- Recognize and name all upper and lower case letters of the alphabet)

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Elementary

  • Paint with the acorn.  Dip it in paint and make some dots.  Bonus points if you show them pictures of Aboriginal dot paintings for inspiration.
  • Make acorn art by gluing it on a paper.  Fold the paper in half and make a symmetrical design.
  • Put the acorns into equal groups and skip count by twos, fives, or tens.  (second grade- Work with equal groups to gain foundations for multiplication)
  • Tell some math story problems using acorns.  Kids learn best when they are able to see and count the objects. For example, “You picked up 8 acorns and I picked up 6 acorns.  How many do we have in all?”  (first and second grade- Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction)
  • Use acorns as a unit of measurement.  How many acorns will fit across a paper?  How many acorns long is a pencil?  (first grade- Measure lengths indirectly and by iterating length units)
  • Take a large group of acorns (maybe 40?) and have your child divide it into two equal groups, then three, four, and so on.  Talk about when you can’t make equal groups.  (third grade- Represent and solve problems involving multiplication and division)
  • Make words with acorns.  Have your child write a sight word so large it fits across a paper.  Then cover the lines with acorns.
  • Spell with acorns.  Write letters on the flat surface of acorns without hats.  Kids might be able to do this by themselves.  Then arrange acorns to practice spelling words or other sight words.

Autumn Book List

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Not Halloween books…not Thanksgiving books….these are just plain autumn books.  Sometimes it’s nice to focus on the season instead of the holiday.  They are all about leaves, harvest, a chill in the air, and animals getting ready for winter.  Check these out at your local library, and if you love them as much as me, run to the bookstore!  Or, you know, run your fingers over the keyboard to search Amazon. 🙂

  • The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri- Repeating text and animal sounds.  Great for beginning readers or reading to toddlers.  It is about a squirrel getting ready for winter.
  • Leaves by David Ezra Stein- Simple text about a bear worried about falling leaves.
  • Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke- Similar to Leaves, but more text describing a fox’s worries the leaves falling off his favorite tree.
  • Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert- Awesome illustrations that make different animals out of leaves.  My favorite is the leaf shapes identified inside the cover.
  • I Know It’s Autumn by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Nancy Hayashi- Describes all the everyday signs of autumn like geese flying south, school buses, wearing a robe.
  • It’s Fall by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Susan Swan- Beautiful cut paper illustrations plus a list of nature activities to do with kids in the back of the book!
  • The Leaves Fall All Around (a Scholastic Rookie Preschool book)- New fall lyrics to the classic “The Green Grass Grew All Around”
  • Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert- Large print and cool illustrations about a sugar maple tree.  Lots of extra information at the end for older kiddos.
  • The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger- The story of a little leaf that didn’t want to fall until another leaf fell with it.  Unique illustrations.
  • Autumn an Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans- Focus on the alphabet for younger readers and the acrostic part for older readers.
  • Awesome Autumn by Bruse Goldstone- Non-fiction book with lots of information for elementary students.  This has everything you want to know about autumn (but were afraid to ask)…okay, maybe not.