Tracking Time

wheelofyear2018Two weeks ago, I hand-drew a pagan wheel of the year. It included four seasons, eight sabbats, and the twelve months of the Gregorian calendar. I labeled everything in ink, and gave it to my son to color in as he saw fit. It took over two hours to work on, because he had a number of questions about each season, sabbat, and month, which allowed us to really delve into how we track an annual cycle.

He was especially concerned that the colors be accurate, and being unsure of much of it, turned my questions about how he felt during certain seasons or holidays around, asking me what colors they conjured for me. Some of my answers affected the colors he chose, but others were entirely of his own choosing–especially December. When I mentioned that Yule, the longest night, was in December, instead of coloring it pine green or holly berry red, he chose black for the darkness of a long winter’s night.

WheelofDays.jpgThe project was so successful, he wanted to “turn” the wheel every day, and was frustrated that he’d have to wait for May to end before turning it to June. So, I found a circle divided into sevenths, printed it out, and labeled it. Gods help me, I momentarily forgot how to spell “Wednesday” and had to print out a second copy to correct it, but once labeled, he set about coloring it with the same seriousness he had the annual wheel.

It took almost as long, because our discussion turned toward the history of the names. Now he only refers to Thursday as “Thor’s Day,” but he refuses to call Friday “Frigga’s Day,” because he thinks it should be “Fries Day” (hence the red ketchup and yellow mustard colors on the wheel). Between discussing mythology (Norse, Greek, and Roman), how days “feel,” and the importance of getting it “right,” he spent over an hour on it.

Now he looks forward to announcing turning the day wheel and having me check it. Sometimes more than once a day. ūüėČ

My next goal is to have him make a moon phase calendar he can adjust daily, but haven’t come up with a decent project that will work as a daily calendar, though I did like the cleverness of this moon phase cup project, but want to make something with him that can be stuck to the fridge with a magnet like the other two, because anything made with a cup will get shuffled, damaged, and eventually tossed out from neglect. After that? The solar system!

EDIT: Apologies, I meant to upload a blank copy of each, but it appears I never scanned (or failed to save the scan) for the hand drawn wheel of the year. Here, at least is the template I used for the wheel of days.


Four Year Old Fractions

downloadMy partner downloaded the app, Slice Fractions 2, onto his iPad, and Little Fox has been obsessed with it. Though he seems to have been able to figure out most of the problems on his own without being formally taught fractions, some of the levels stumped him.

Rather than do the problems for him so his mammoth could move on, earn hats, and rescue cute pets, I talked to him about the problems as we solved them together. He was especially stumped by a particular level where there are two whole blocks, and he has to come up with five-thirds blocks of ice to snuff the lava and let the mammoth go on its merry way.

Just describing it wasn’t working, as it had for other levels, so we got back to practical basics. I didn’t think we’d be doing fractions this early with him, but so be it. He’s interested, so we’re doing it.

I thought of using cuisenaire rods, but what I really wanted was something whole that could be cut up. We don’t have gf pretzel sticks, and I didn’t want to break a pencil for a point (pun intended), and Dragon suggested a banana, but no way am I eating or wasting a banana right now.

We decided on meat sticks, because even if we didn’t eat them, we could put them back in the bag. Fox plucked the paper towel, Dragon fetched the bag of snacks from the pantry, and I set to work.

First we talked about the stick as a whole, representing a block. There are two blocks: two wholes.


Second, I talked about the “number on the bottom” (the denominator) being how many pieces to cut the whole into. In the case of his problem, five-thirds, he needed to cut each whole into three pieces. Cutting was hard with a table knife–these meat sticks are dry and dense–so I did the work. When we had our three pieces, I showed him that each piece represented a single third.


Finally, we talked about how many pieces he needed to complete the puzzle. The problem showed 5/3. I talked about the “number on top” (the numerator), and how it indicates how many pieces are necessary to solve the problem. I asked him to count out five thirds from the pieces we had. Then he went back to the game, used his narwhals to slice the right number of thirds, and passed the challenge.


If you have access to the game and can afford the price ($4), this is an incredible game that my little one loves, and both my partner and I enjoy playing as well, even though we mastered fractions a long time ago because there’s more to many of these challenges than just knowing what numbers are needed to complete each level. (I am not being sponsored by the company to endorse it, I just really, really like it.)

As for the meat sticks, they never made it back in the bag.


A Magic School Bus Kind of Day

I awoke with the theme song to The Magic School Bus. My son’s working his way through the original episodes little by little. When I logged into Facebook, I received an ad for a Sun and Moon print dress that looked just like Ms. Frizzle’s astronomy dress. Sadly, it only goes up to a size 12, or I’d have bought it on the spot.

Then we watched the pickle episode after brunch, and discovered Ms. Frizz is a Les Mis fan.

MsFrizz-24601Many of you might already be aware of her love of this musical, but I never watched all the episodes when it was on TV. I only saw the random episode now and again. My daughter and I saw this and broke into song, because we can’t avoid singing “Look Down” and “One Day More” with the slightest suggestion.

What’s more, we now know how tall our newest favorite fictional teacher is, and how much height her hair adds.

I’m skeptical of the new reboot of the show with Ms. Frizz’s younger sister at the wheel, but I do love watching the original show with my son. He’s so focused when we watch it, and talks about what he learned endlessly. He finds ways to incorporate each episode into what we’re doing that day.

Perhaps while we’re making popcorn balls and undressing the Yule tree today, he’ll search for microbes. Whatever comes, I’m sure today will be a productive learning experience.

Of course, I still want the dress. Perhaps I could write a letter to the company to upgrade the sizes. ūüėČ

Teaching Music to a 4 Year Old

4yomusic-picWhen I was taking piano lessons last year, I asked my incredible teacher how she dealt with young children, and in what ways her methods differed with them compared to how she taught me.

She told me that until children are 6 years old, it’s best to work with them primarily on rhythm and percussion, rather than other instruments. Some kids certainly might have talent with the piano or violin at an early age, but often their hands haven’t developed enough to allow a proper reach, and¬†most children needed to learn the foundation of rhythm first.

My son took a rhythm class that, unfortunately, stopped running after the quarter he attended. The couple running the music studio couldn’t afford to keep it open. When that happened, he stopped wanting to play music at home … until this fall.

He received a Koala Crate centered around music, and built his own instrument (a box marimba) with it, and even “wrote” some of his own music using colored stamps to indicate which wooden bar to strike. Then he started secretly singing the Alphabet Song when he was in the bathroom, or by himself in another room. I heard him once, and started singing along. It took a few weeks to coax him to sing it with me, but now that he’s got the tune (and the letters) down, he demands I sing it with him in English, and sing it in French for him, as well. Since the tune is the same for¬†Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and¬†Bah-Bah Black Sheep, he can sing those, as well. Thanks, Mozart!

Though he’s always loved dancing to music, I can also engage him in singing music with me, but I don’t want to overwhelm him with my excitement. So, I’m giving him little teasers of what’s to come.

I recently showed him the “Doe a Deer/Do re mi” clip from¬†The Sound of Music, and talked about how they used those single notes in different arrangements to make songs. He wasn’t too focused on it, until I pointed out that¬†Steven Universe did the same thing with “Peace and Love on the Planet Earth.”

I’m re-introducing rhythm practices with percussion instruments, and dance & clap games and games, like follow the leader. I’m also going to play more classic musicals for him to watch with me, and help him learn some of the songs that interest him (both with singing and clapping/stomping to the rhythm).

I can tell he really enjoys singing, as well as the interactive aspects of singing¬†together, even more so with sign language involved. (The “Itsy Bitsy Spider” is still his favorite song, and the first one he ever tried to sing.)

I’m hoping he’ll become even more enamored with music, so that by the time he’s six, he can choose an instrument to play. Music opens up the brain to a variety of complex subjects and makes comprehension in STEAM subjects stronger. But even if it didn’t, it’s just a lot of fun to play with sound, engage with music, and learn to compose music on one’s own.

Counting and the Alphabet

16195557_10154270436273059_8844578467252457715_nLately, the Little Fox¬†loves counting. ¬†We’re counting the lamps in the bedroom, we’re counting our fingers and toes, we’re counting bites during a snack, or seconds while I hold my PT and yoga poses. ¬†We’re counting anything and everything holding my son’s interest.

It’s not the first time he’s been interested in numbers, but it’s a resurgence with an intensity he never showed before. ¬†As I mentioned in last week’s post, he started becoming interested again with the books One Nighttime Sea and Wizard of Oz Counting.

61tkzjdun2bl-_sx365_bo1204203200_One of his favorite things to count — his absolute favorite — is counting letters. ¬†He especially likes seeking out the letters in his name (he learned to spell his name courtesy of a cousin who sent a wooden bench carved with his name in it). ¬†He’s always looking for the As and the Cs. ¬†Sunday night, I read the whole Animalia to him, slowly enunciating all the words. ¬†We didn’t just count the obvious letters, but also those hidden within the art on each page. ¬†Sometimes we went far beyond his knowledge of counting, but he did his best to repeat the numbers I said. ¬†Some pages went up to 23 instances of the letter in question.

This combined interest in both numbers and letters has become an exciting way of integrating the basics. ¬†Though we’d never push him to start reading or doing math so early, we absolutely support him when he shows such passion for something. ¬†Since he’s so focused, I’ve even started introducing the concepts of addition. ¬†When we’re counting letters or animals or some other items in a book, and the items in questions are split between the folds, I count the whole, and then count those on either side of the page and add them together.

For example, seven lemurs are spread across two pages. ¬†We count them as seven together, and then I count four on one page, three on the other, and say, “and four and three makes seven!”

I don’t expect him to repeat this, but by simply talking about it, the concept starts to sink into his mind, so when he starts to focus on adding and subtracting objects in his world, these lessons will have laid a preliminary foundation.

Random ideas for things to count:

  • Legos, ponies, cars, figurines, or other toys they’re actively playing with
  • Sticks, leaves, rocks, shells, or other common objects found on a nature walk
  • Seconds (while doing something)
  • Peas, chips, grapes, or other food that comes in multiples
  • People or animals in an area
  • Fingers, toes, eyes, ears, bones, etc.
  • Shirts, pants, socks, or other laundry items while folding (socks are especially good for counting if they’re learning to fold their socks)
  • Dabs of paint, crayons, or other items with varied colors (also integrates color lessons)
  • Wooden beads, buttons, yarn pieces, and other craft items they’re using in projects
  • The tires on different vehicles (e.g. bicycles, tricycles, car, semitruck, etc.)
  • The limbs on varying animals (counting legs: zero limbs on snakes, bipedal humans, quadrapedal animals, six-legged insects, eight-legged spiders and octopuses; wings or arms vs. legs; etc.)

Another part to teaching and learning counting is the concept of zero, nothing, and none. ¬†This is crucial to all levels of mathematics, although the basic vague understanding of it comes along often in a young child’s life when they’re told they cannot have something, or when they insist they want to eat nothing when they’re cranky with hunger. ¬†Nevertheless, as important as zero is, we often don’t remember it in counting, which is why discussions about limbs, for instance, can introduce zero as a number meaning none.

Whenever your little one starts taking an interest in numbers or letters, it’s time to start playing number and alphabet games, and singing songs (e.g. Hickory, Dickory Dock, 10 little monkeys, the alphabet song, and so on.) ¬†Another great resource are “Alligators All Around” and “One Was Johnny” by Maurice Sendak and sent to music by Carole King (these are two books found in Sendak’s Nutshell library). ¬†And if you’re counting months, don’t forget “Chicken Soup with Rice.” ¬†If your little ones are Seuss fans, there’s also Dr. Seuss’ ABC Book; it’s not my favorite, but my son adores it.




Preschool Books about the Human Body

We’ve wrapped up our human body unit for the season, and as I’d said in a previous post, I overdid the materials. ¬†After a couple of weeks wading through lots and lots and LOTS of books (at least three dozen), here are the ones we liked the most.

0064435962_intFrom Head to Toe by Eric Carle – Not only is it a Carle book with his classic, distinctive style of art, it also encourages children to answer the question, “Can you ___?” by acting it out with their bodies. ¬†Every movement is followed by, “I can do it!” ¬†This is a message I definitely want to sink in with my son, who often claims he can’t do simple things he’d already conquered.

My Bodyworks by Jane Schoenberg РLoved the movement inspiring lyrics of this book of body songs.

Human Body by Dan Green – Though this book is intended for older children, our family loves this series of books, and owns all of the ones related to Chemistry and Physics from my daughter’s middle school years. ¬†The content is frank, the pictures are cute, and you can choose what parts of it you wish to share as you go.

1dd301fa720fdfdf5a0dae8851760cdb-w2041xHere Are My Hands by Bill Martin РA simple, colorful book of diverse children excited about all their body parts can do for them from hands to feet and beyond.

Our Blood by Charlotte Guillain РMy son selected this himself.  The book contains clear, textbook styled explanations with photographs about blood and its purpose in the body.  We read it three times.

Inside your outside! by Tish Rabe РTish Rabe uses familiar Seuss characters to look inside the human body and explain how organs work.  A little weird, a lot of rhyming, and not quite Seuss, but definitely eye-catching for a Seuss-obsessed preschooler.

We all move by Rebecca Rissman РAnother photographic book containing a diverse selection of people engaging in varied activities.

51b2bt78qaol-_sx258_bo1204203200_Busy body book¬†by Lizzy Rockwell – I love the art in this book. ¬†Lots of color, lots of kids, all celebrating their bodies. ¬†There’s more text than¬†Here Are My Hands, but it has a similar feel to it.

Foot book by Dr. Seuss РOh, the joys of feet, as told by Seuss.

Teeth by Sneed B. Collard – Not entirely about human bodies, but a great book full of colorful sketches of animals (including humans) and their teeth, contains some good beginner information.

In addition to reading all of these books (and many more):

We sang songs that involve movement each day, like “Head, Shoulders Knees, and Toes,” and “The Hokey Pokey.”

We watched a Sesame Street video called “Happy, Healthy Monsters,” which proved to be mostly jumping and watching funny sketches, rather than actually moving our bodies.

We made paper organs and added them to a paper body, using a large sheet of rolled drawing paper (from IKEA).  I wanted my son to lie on the paper so I could trace an outline of his body, but he was convinced the marker would hurt (even after touching it to my finger and then his), so he laid next to the paper, and I made a hasty approximation of his body and size.

Then we used various colors of construction paper. ¬†I drew rough shapes of the organs in the approximate size they’d be in his body, and he used safety scissors to cut around the shapes. ¬†He cut through his brain, his kidneys, and his lungs, but tape made it all better. ¬†Our Little Fox paper model had a brain, two blue eyes, lungs, a heart, kidneys, a stomach, liver, pancreas, diaphragm, gallbladder, large and small intestines with appendix, and spleen. ¬†As we placed them into the body shape on the paper, we discussed what each one did. ¬†I kept the systems together, so we could talk about the body in small bursts. ¬†We did brain and eyes first, then lungs, heart, and diaphragm, and finally the digestive system. ¬†Here are a couple of the models I used (found on Google Image Search) to help remind me where to put everything:


Planning Preschool at Home

preschoolplanOur lives continue to change and evolve. ¬†In preparation for my daughter’s imminent entrance to college life, I’m also planning how best to make use of the approximately eight hours a day, four days a week, of one-on-one time with my son whose needs are vastly different than his sister’s were when we started homeschooling at a 4th grade level.

Preschool education, while in general a comfortable place for me (I love nursery rhymes and music circles and silly movement games), I’ve never taught this level full-time with one or more children. ¬†Creating a routine isn’t easy for me either, but at this age, children need it so much more than the rest of us.

Together, my son and I will be establishing a new routine, one filled with games and exploration of our local world.  Routines filled with a more dedicated focus each week, to help me in staying on track with him and not falling into bad habits of idleness and home seclusion (something I fight from my upbringing and introversion).

Though he’s signed up for fall music and gymnastics, and once he’s four, he’ll be eligible for weekly classes in preschool farming, Aikido, parkour, and drama, there’s a lot of time between any classes where we need to be engaged in more than playing cars or watching Steven Universe.

Thus, I’ve laid out a weekly theme guide for the coming year. ¬†For reference, I have started our preschool theme planning on the last Monday of September, when my daughter heads off to Running Start. ¬†The three weeks before that are preparatory weeks to get the house and the family ready for this major shift in our current lifestyle. ¬†It includes relevant holidays to us and planned visits with friends. ¬†If you’re in a similar boat with a preschooler, these themes might inspire you to do your own.

Around these themes, I’ve tentatively planned certain field trips. ¬†For example, Week 2’s theme pairs well with visiting the local Reptile Zoo, and “Fire and Rescue” lends itself well to visiting our local firehouse to meet our rescue workers and see how they operate. ¬†Some of these trips will require more coordination and planning ahead than others, but all of them will include both at-home projects, art, songs, etc., and outdoor exploration.


Little Fox uses cat as a pillow


Week A: Not Back to School outings
Week B: Ready House
Week C: College Prep / Mabon
Week 1: Human Body


Week 2: Eggs & Who Lays Them
Week 3: Trees and Plants in Fall
Week 4: Our Senses
Week 5: Harvest / Samhain
Week 6: Samhain / [Friend Visiting] / Exploring Our Town


Week 7: Community Helpers: Fire & Rescue
Week 8: First Nations People
Week 9: Giving Thanks / Gratitude
Week 10: Nocturnal Animals



One of our neighbors on a walk through the neighborhood.

Week 11: Hibernation
Week 12: Arctic Animals
Week 13: Solstice / Christmas
Week 14: Keeping Warm


Week 15: Snow and Ice
Week 16: Hygiene
Week 17: Nutrition
Week 18: Safety Indoors / Chinese New Year
Week 19: Imbolc / Start of Spring


Week 20: Sheep and Goats
Week 21: Love and Friendship
Week 22: Soil and Garden Prep
Week 23: Heroes and Leaders


Week 24: Transportation
Week 25: Life cycles
Week 26: Spring Break / Ostara
Week 27: Flowers


Week 28: Baby Animals
Week 29: Norwescon Prep / Crafts
Week 30: Little Fox’s Birthday / The Earth and Earth Day
Week 31: Forests and Jungles
Week 32: Deserts and Plains


Week 33: Oceans and Islands
Week 34: Fresh Water
Week 35: Beaches
Week 36: Garden Pollinators


Week 37: Birds in our yard
Week 38: Dance
Week 39: Litha
Week 40: Outdoor Safety


Week 41: Astronomy and Space
Week 42: Rocks and Minerals
Week 43: Free Play / Double Birthday Week
Week 44: Zoo Animals
Week 45: Farming / Lughnasadh


Week 46: Sea Creatures / Aquarium
Week 47: Camping and Hiking
Week 48: Food Art
Week 49: Ponds: Flora and Fauna


Week 50: Market Vegetables

Things My Three Year Old Loves

13592205_10153719898923059_5651370052460487932_nPlaying in the park.¬† Nothing pleases him more than heading to a local park and finding a lot of other children there. ¬†Like many novel situations, he stands and watches for several minutes before determining whether or not something is safe. ¬†Once he’s sure, he dives headlong. ¬†He treats making friends the same way. ¬†He watches the other children for a while, walking right up to a group and listening in. ¬†Once he’s gathered intel, he decides whether to move on to a different group of children, find a solo playmate, or engage in whatever activity the first group decides upon.

Back and neck massage to help him nap. Since giving up milk at nap time, for months we’d pretty much given up nap time because even attempts at “quiet time” failed. ¬†One day I was too tired and desperate for my own quiet time, so I invited him on the bed for a back rub. ¬†He loved it so much, he fell asleep. ¬†Now every day I’ve been offering the same during quiet time. ¬†He doesn’t always fall sleep, but I can get a quiet break for up to an hour for fifteen minutes of back, neck, and leg massage. So worth it.

13512014_10153693760728059_5127652802662483956_nPainting with vibrant colors. ¬†We explored tempera paints for the first time together and used it as a chance to talk about color theory. He adored it and wants to do it again! ¬†(We’re starting the bidding for his debut piece, “Roads, Space Rockets, and Flowers” at $30,ooo.)

Watercolor spraying with an old sheet hung up outside. ¬†Now that it’s summer again, we can drag out the spray bottles, watercolors, and old white sheet for creative play. ¬†Leave it out in the rain to wash it away and start again, or put it away and add more layers.

Access to percussion instruments.  Bang bang rattle clang ding and dong.  Nothing like helping a child find his voice than providing him with copious amounts of percussion instruments.

Playing with his babydolls.¬† Sometimes he cuddles his babydolls (Callie and Alejandro), sometimes he puts them to bed, and sometimes he walks them around the house in their tandem stroller. ¬†He asks often for assistance in clearing a path for the stroller and pushing it over obstacles. ¬†He wants to be a good daddy to his “kids.”

13510861_10153700899978059_766190641590540333_nAnything to do with cars and other vehicles. ¬†Still obsessed, but after putting all of his non-stuffed toys into the same place in the living room (instead of in places around the house), he’s been far better at keeping track of his toys, and in putting them away in their bins.

Making boffers. ¬†Ok, he likes watching me¬†make boffers for his sister’s 16th birthday party, and picking up the unfinished ones to play with. ¬†We have several started as PVC pipe and pool noodle foam, now to move on to applying the many colors of duct tape we bought. ¬†We’re making swords, staeves, daggers, and a couple of short swords for the three year olds.

Cuddles, lullabies, and story time. ¬†Who doesn’t like these? ¬†But as a group, they’re ubiquitous to the pleasures of being young and tiny. ¬†Three year olds are still in many ways babies, though they won’t be for much longer. ¬†Bask in all the toddler kisses and snuggles you can, because they make life sweeter by the minute. ¬†One of the latest finds at the library was quite adorable and charming. ¬†Dear Tabby by Carolyn Crimi features an alley cat who¬†works as an advice correspondent to the local animals of Critterville. They send in letters full of their woes (and a small treat as payment), and she writes back with her sage wisdom. Definitely worth checking out.


Toddlers: What to Show Them When They Watch TV

Cal and the SealA couple of years ago, my cousin asked me when her first child turned two, what shows were good for little kids to watch. ¬†She was most concerned (beyond the usual issues of violence, etc.) about showing him single shot or long shot videos where the scenes don’t jump back and forth within a matter of seconds. ¬†She wanted something he could look at, ponder, and comprehend. ¬†At the time, I was raising a pre-teen, and couldn’t think of what to say that was very useful.

Now that I have another little one in the home — and because of my technophile household I can’t keep him from seeing screens in the house for two years — I have a better answer for other parents wanting to slowly introduce their young ones to television or film.

Real-Time Kitten Cams (and other animals)

Kittens and other small animals are quite attractive to toddlers, and they’ll focus on them for some time. ¬†Seeing a video of baby animals in real time, without editing, avoids all media distractions normally found in other videos. ¬†We recently watched a chick being hatched (with help from its human parent) that would not have been able to hatch on its own. ¬†I sat riveted for far longer than the baby, truth be told. ¬†Right now, as I type, we have a kitten cam up from a litter of half dozen kittens who are being fostered through MEOW rescue, where we adopted three of our own cats. ¬†See the Kittens of the Shire now while you can!

Zoo and Farm Animal Videos

Though you might have to scout around for ones that are done well with a steady camera gaze, videos from zoos, farms, and people with adorable animals can provide an enjoyable screen experience for your child without a lot of the intensity of motion, music, and mania from children’s shows and cartoons. ¬†Sit Down With Cubs from Woodland Park Zoo shows a lioness and her cubs in their den. ¬†It’s slow, relaxed, and runs at a natural pace. ¬†The video is 28 minutes long, so you can watch a few minutes, and stop, then come back to it later if need be.

Musicals and Old Films

The slower frames and longer shots of old films and musicals provides a good introduction to both taking in information from a screen, and also enjoying classic films.  One my own son is enjoying these days is the title song from Singing in the Rain.

Period Dramas and Older Shows

While most families adhering to the two year suggestion for toddlers might not want to watch anything like¬†Downtown Abbey¬†or¬†Star Trek: Next Generation¬†with their youngest, we find they’re generally good at taking their time with each framed shot, have several scenes with intellectual discourse, and do not possess many adult themed taboos for little children — violence being my biggest concern. ¬†(We also occasionally watch “safe” anime shows such as¬†Silver Spoon on Crunchyroll.) ¬†These shows are a good introduction to television without overstimulating the child, and allow the older members of the family to get in some much-needed ¬†entertainment outside of peek-a-boo and nursery rhymes.