The Power of Yes

Yes.

Such a small, simple word. Yet so powerful. We haven’t been using “yes” around here enough lately. Too often, when I have heard the words “Mummy, can you play with me?” my response has been “I can’t right now honey” or “I will later, but right now I need to do the vacumming / ironing / get the dinner started / unstack the dishwasher….” The playtime does eventually happen, but always “later”, never “yes, right now”. Of course Mr.Perfect Day and I both spend a lot of time with R(3), crafting, painting, reading, discovering, but lately it has always been on our terms. We decide when all that fun time can be slotted in between work, cleaning, cooking and all the other million things that it takes to run a household. That’s life, and sometimes it has to be that way, but it had reached the point where R was never hearing “yes”, but always “later”. So I am being mindful to slow down and to say yes more often, and today, we had a “yes” day. A day where the housework, errands, and emails could wait. An entire day of taking things at a child’s pace. No rushing, no schedules, no pre-planned activities, just ambling in whichever direction R’s imagination would take us and just being in the moment with him.

Yes, I will get down on the floor and play trains with you.

Yes, I will dress up in our superhero capes, fly around the living room and save the world with you.

Yes, I will snuggle with you on the couch and watch Toy Story, again, and yes I will sit there for the entire length of the movie, and I will not sneak a peek at my iPhone or turn on the lap top.

Yes, I will stand outside and watch the clouds with you, and yes, you’re right, they really do look like robots!

Yes, let’s sit together and make up silly stories.

Yes, I will sing “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush”   –  for the eleventh time straight.

Yes, let’s chase each other around the house, pretending that the wooden spoons we are holding are lasers and you have just turned me purple.

Yes, you are more important to me than the basket of ironing, or the lap top, or the pile of mail that has been sittng on the counter since yesterday.

And do you know what happened?  The ironing is still there, and it will still be there tomorrow. Exactly the same as it was today. It will keep. But R? Tomorrow he will be just that little bit different. It happens that fast at this age. Today I got to just be with him. Taking in every second of him. Hearing him. Hugging him. Giggling with him. Committing to memory as much as I could about who he is, right here, right now.  He told me his favourite colour was black (go figure!).  I heard him say “No more Mr Night Sky” when he meant “No more Mr Nice Guy”. He told me a story (“Once there was a man who was not afraid of frogs or chickens. Cluck, cluck, cluck. The End.”)  And best of all, I got to see his eyes light up every time I said, “Yes”.

Mixing oil and water – science experiment

One of R(3)’s most favourite things to do at the moment is colour mixing. Whenever we play with paint lately, he inevitably has more fun experimenting with mixing the colours than actually putting paint on paper. I thought this little experiment of mixing oil, water and food colouring would really spark his imagination. He had so much fun with this and as usual, his play evolved from our first intention (the science experiment) to something else altogether – fine motor, sensory and imaginative play.

I found the idea for this experiment via this post over at Play Create Explore. Be sure to check them out. Jessie has some fantastic ideas for creative play.

This is so simple to put together. All you will need is water (at room temperature), vegetable oil, and food colouring.

Fill a vessel to about three quarters full with the water. We used a hurricane lamp simply because I wanted to use something large, but a vase, or even a larg drinking glass would work just as well. Next, pour in the vegetable oil. For this to work, you will need the layer of oil to be about two inches deep.

Even this first simple step was so much fun! Watching the oil bead together and drop down into the water, and then float back up to the top of the water was fascinating and very meditative.

We waited until the oil had settled into a single layer above the water.

 Then it was time to add some colour! We added a few drops of food colouring to the oil. At first it seemed as though nothing was happening, until, slowly……

Slowly…

Things really start to explode in there…

Until at last, we ended up with this….

WOW!

SOME TIPS:

         (or what we learned from doing this experiment twice because it was a great big fail the first time around!)

  • You only need a VERY small amount of food colouring. Just a few drops of each colour. The first time we tried this, we squirted the colouring from syringes and the colour just shot straight through the oil immediately and the water was just a murky mess.
  • The water needs to be at room temperature.
  • The larger your vessel, the thicker your layer of oil needs to be. For the large hurricane lamp that we were using, our layer of oil was approximately three inches thick.
  • Drop in one colour at a time for dramatic effect. Start with your lighter colours first and end with your darker colours, otherwise you won’t see the light colours dropping through. We started with yellow, then followed with red, green and finally blue.

After the colours had started to blend together, R announced that he wanted to mix the oil and water. I handed him a wooden spoon and he explained that he was making “magic jelly”.

I brought out some of his sensory tub tools and handed him a ladel and a bowl. He continued with his imaginative play and this time delcared that he was making a cake for Daddy. This was a wonderful opportunity for scooping and pouring, something R just loves to do. When I put him to bed that night and asked him what his favourite part of the day had been, he said “Ladelling!” It’s written all over his face….

At one point, the ladel fell deep into the oil and water mixture. I decided to hand him some tongs to retrieve it. We use tongs quite a lot with our Montessori trays. Tonging is great for strengthing the pincer grip and is a great pre-writing and pre-scissor cutting exercise. Although R is pretty skilled with tongs these days, I still imagined there would be no way he would retrieve a heavy metal ladel, slippery with oil, using the tongs. He was up for the challenge.

Having a try….

Success!

Friday Flashback – easy DIY fine motor skills activity

This is the first in my Friday Flashback series. The series will be a look back at my pre-blogging days. I have had the idea for this blog in my head for so long and I have been taking pictures of everything we do, thinking “I’ll blog about this one day”. Well, today is that day!

For our first Friday Flashback I’m revisiting a Montessori inspired fine motor skills activty. This is so quick and simple to put together. Does your family eat cereal? Does your family eat macaroni? Yes? Then you have everything you need to make this activity and you won’t have to outlay a cent!

(That odd marking on R’s hand is the remnants of one of those temporary tattoos. I think this one was once a frog on a skateboard!)

To make this, I simply took an empty cereal box and pierced some holes in a random pattern over one side of the box. I used a pair of scissors but you could use anything you have on hand such as a skewer. I tried to vary the width of the holes a little. The idea is for the child to push the macaroni through the holes so I made some holes quite large, thus making it very easy to slide the macaroni through, and for other holes I kept the fit nice and snug to create a bit more of a challenge. After you have pierced the holes in the box, pour some uncooked macaroni into a bowl and voila! Instant game.

R was 2.5 when we did this. He really enjoyed it and his attention was held for at least fifteen minutes – no mean feat for him when he was that age! I just love the look of concentration on his face in this picture. He’s also doing this with his non-dominant hand in this picture which I was very interested to observe, especially given the fact that this was the first time we’d tried anything like this.

This was such a simple activity to whip up in no time. Just the thing to occupy a little one when you need a quick few minutes to get something done. This activity encourages fine motor skills including the all-important pincer grip, hand / eye co-ordination, concentration skills, and patience. All that from a cereal box! Who knew?

After 15 minutes of deep concentration, R was done, and he decided the uncooked macaroni could be put to much better use as an afternoon snack!

Finally it was all over. Literally. All over the table, that is!

Shaving foam fun!

There’s nothing I love more than when I set out with a particular goal in mind for learning through play and the activity ends up as something else entirely. This happens quite a lot actually! For some time now I have been planning on making a DIY version of the Montessori sandpaper letters and sand tray. All good in theory, but the mere thought of having to cut 26 letters from sandpaper is enough to make my hand ache, and then of course my OCD would not let me stop there. I would need to create a set in upper case as well, and a set of numbers…..

So, as a shorcut, I thought we could make something like this. I planned on filling a zip lock bag with shaving cream with some food colouring added for fun. We would then practise writing our letter of the week in the shaving foam.

As much as possible, I try to involve R(3) with setting up our activities. So, rather than simply present him with the prepared writing bag, I asked him if he would like to help me colour the shaving foam. R had never touched shaving foam before, a fact which is quite surprising given how much sensory play we do around here. It had just never ocurred to me to use it before. He was squealing with laughter as he sprayed the foam from the can and into the bowl I had set out for him. Shaving foam is a fantastic sensory experience for kids. They can watch it expand and grow at it squirts out of the can, they can slide the smooth mess between their fingers, making shapes and mounds with the frothy gloop, and they can smell the aroma if it is a scented foam.

We added some blue and red food colouring and R had fun creating the gorgeous marbelling of colours that you see in the picture above.

 It was then that I realised we would not be making a letter writing bag that day! That shaving foam was going over hands, up arms and underneath finger nails, NOT in a zip lock bag!

We may not have had any literacy lessons that day but we had a lesson in science instead…..and a whole lot of MESSY fun!

Spiderman Cupcakes Tutorial

Aren’t these just the cutest cupcakes? And they are so simple to make. That’s my kind of cooking – maximum impact for minimum effort. I made these last week for R’s last day at kindy. When I offered to make him a cake for his last day, I was imagining a much less extravagant offering. I had in mind an easy chocolate cake, some frosting and perhaps a few sprinkles. That’s it. I should have known R would come out with “Oh yes cake! A spiderman cake? Spiderman cupcakes!” His reaction when he saw the finished product was priceless – well worth the effort of icing 768 individual strands of webbing (32 cupcakes x 24 strands of webbing! Not that I was counting or anything…..)

Naturally my immediate reaction after hearing a plea for Spiderman Cupcakes was to scour Pinterest for ideas. For the first time, Pinterest didn’t have all the answers! There were lots of pics for extravagant multi-tiered birthday cakes but I just needed something simple. I found this pic on flickr from the amazingly talented Liana at Star Bakery in the UK. Since it was simply a flickr photo, there was no tutorial, no recipes, nothing. I would have to improvise.

I made chocolate cupcakes because, well, they’re my favourite, and I also thought the chocolate colour would look great against the red icing. I haven’t included a cake recipe on this post because basically you can just use any of your favourite go-to cake recipes. Anything will work. There are really only two things you need to remember when making cupcakes. The first is that you should only fill the patty cases to about 2/3 full, or you will end up with conjoined muffins, not sweet self contained cupcakes.  The second thing to remember is that if you are using a regular cake recipe, then adjust the cooking time. A whole cake may take 40 to 45 minutes to bake, but cupcakes will generally only take 12 to 15 minutes to bake. They’re ready when a skewer pierced through the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.

Now the fun part! Decorating these lovelies!

YOU WILL NEED:

  • 2 cups Pure icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • Red food colouring
  • Black writing gel (I used this one from Queen. I needed 3 tubes for 32 cupcakes)
  • White marshmallows (You will need 1 marshmallow for every 3 cupcakes. I used 11 marshmallows for 32 cupcakes)

A note on using red food colouring – a true red hue is notoriously difficult to obtain. Often, your mix wil appear pink or worse, salmon coloured, a lesson I learned the hard way when I made an Elmo cake for R’s first birthday. I used almost two bottles of food colouring to make that cake a true Elmo red. Mr Perfect Day called it my radioactive red cake because it had so much artificial colouring. We’re sure our insides are still glowing after eating it. It looked fantastic though! A good tip to achieving a true red colour is to use gel food colouring rather than the common liquid food colourings. Since the infamous Elmo cake incident, I now only ever use Wilton food colouring gels. They are so true to colour, a little goes a long way and mixing colours to achieve different shades is a breeze.

A note about the “eyes”. I used marshmallows to make the eyes. The one piece of information on the flickr photo from Start Bakery was that fondant was used for the eyes. I have never worked with fondant before and I wasn’t about to start for this recipe. I just used what I had on hand which happened to be marshmallows but you could just as easily use any white candy cut to the right size and shape.

Sart by making your icing. I generally don’t measure my ingredients to make this icing. I just mix and blend until I achieve the right consistancy. For these cupcakes, I used approximately two cups of icing sugar, approximately 3 tablespoons of water and about 1.5 teaspoons of Wilton red food colouring gel. You really can’t go wrong. If your mixture is too thin, add more icing sugar. If it is too thick, add more water. You’re aiming for a blend that is thin enough to spread across the top of the cakes but which won’t run down the sides of the cakes. Once you are happy with the consistancy, spread the icing on the top of each cupcake and allow to set before adding the web design. This icing is fully set within a couple of hours but the icing will be firm enough for the web decoration within about 15 minutes.

Now you’re ready to add the spider web. Start by making a cross using the black writing gel.

Next, make another cross, cutting through the mid points of the first cross, as shown, so you have eight “spokes”.

Draw three strands of webbing between the spokes as shown. TIP: the results are much neater and more web-like if you draw three strands of webbing within each triangle segment first, before moving on to the next segment. If you simply draw around in a circle, making all the outer web strands first, then all the middle then all the inner strands, the results will not be nearly as good. ANOTHER TIP: Try to curve the web strands as shown. This will give a more realistic and professional result.

After completing the web strands within all the triangle segments, you are ready to add the eyes. The picture below shows the three stages of cutting the marshmallow to achieve the eye shape. I used kitchen scissors to cut these. I wouldn’t recommend using a knife as you wouldn’t achieve the clean straight edges that you need. TIP: Dust your hands and the scissors with icing sugar. This will prevent the marshmallows from sticking and stretching as you cut them.

The first step is to cut a single marshmallow down the centre, making two semi-circles.

Next, cut the tips off one end of each of the semi-circles, so th you have a straight edge along the base as shown.

Now, cut three layers from each of the shapes. You will end up with 6 eyes from one marshmallow. This is the trickiest step as you will be cutting the marshmallow quite thinly so it will stretch and stick. Coat your scissors and you fingers very well with icing sugar before cutting.

Place two eyes on each cupcake, with the curved side of the eye facing outwards. Simply place them on the cupcake. The gel webbing will ensure that the marshmallow adheres to the top of the cake. Next, carefully pipe the black writing gel around the outside edge of each eye. Voila! Spiderman!

Big Messy Fun

Last week we took advantage of the one tiny break we had from the rain and went outside for some big messy art. Recognise that mish mash of colours on the left? Yep, that’s our homepage image. Those colours make my heart sing!

I began by taking out our roll of butcher’s paper. We have this one from IKEA.  These rolls of paper can be found in lots of dollar stores and craft suppliers, and they are so economical. They seem to last forever, even for the most prolific of artists. R(3) often likes to put one brush stroke down on a page and call it done and he goes on to a new page, so we go through a LOT of paper. Buying one of these rolls was the best thing I ever did. After cutting four long strips from the roll, I then taped them together to make a large sqaure canvas. The idea is to create as much space for rolling, spreading and pouring paint as possible.

I laid the paper outside, and R began to pour paint all over it. Even this stage was great fun for R as he squeezed and shook the paint bottles, discovering how his movements affected the way the paint splashed or poured on to the page.

I thought it already looked great, before the fun messy part had even begun!

Next we added rolling pins and sponge rollers to the mix.

It wasn’t long before R started coming up with his own ideas about how he was going to create this art and THAT’S when I knew we were having fun. First he found a stick in the yard. He soaked it in paint and stamped it across the paper…

Then it was hand prints and finger prints….

Next R engaged in some sensory play, squealching and squeezing the paint between his fingers, and running his slippery hands over the stones that I had used to weigh down the paper on to the ground…

 Finally, he explored the sensation of the paint soaked sponge rolling over his skin…

It was all over pretty quickly. The rain was looming once more but we had lots of fun…

I’m linking up with the KIDS GET CRAFTY link up hosted by Creative With Kids and Red Ted Art. Take a look for lots more great crafty ideas.

Oh The Places You’ll Go…..

Today was a day of mixed emotions for me. We sadly said goodbye to all of the thoroughly lovely, dedicated and downright incredible teachers, and dear sweet kiddies, at R’s(3) daycare centre. He has been attending this centre three days a week for just short of two years. For that entire time, he has been on the waiting list at another centre and two weeks ago, I received a call to say that a place had become available for him. (Yes, childcare here in Sydney is that scarce! You can wait up to two years or three years for a place sometimes. To enrol him in the Montessori school where I would really like him to attend would have meant enrolling him at conception. Sadly I hadn’t even heard of Montessori back then.) We are so excited about the new pre-school that he’ll be attending. We feel it will be a better centre for R for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it is located on a much larger premises, with an amazing outdoor play area, something  I have always desired for him.

The difficulty is of course, the wonderful people that have become part of our life for the past two years. This is where R made his very first best friends, and being an only child these other children have been his “brothers” and “sisters”. The teachers have gone above and beyond every single day and the bond they share with R is unmistakable. R had delayed speech developement and went through speech therapy a year ago (you would never believe it now if you heard him speak. He will chat the ears off perfect strangers in the street and people are constantly saying to me “He’s a chatty one isn’t he?”). R’s teachers were right on board with us in assisting with his speech therapy and spent hours of one on one time with him, coaching him, making flashcards and even learning some sign language that he was using at the time to communicate. Every day R has been showered with kisses and cuddles from these beautiful, caring teachers, and when last year we lost my father to cancer, they showed so much concern and support for us. These are truly wonderful people and the very essence of what teaching is all about.

Thank you Michaela, Julie, Manu, Suzie and Demi.

Despite our sadness at saying goodbye, we are excited about the next chapter for R on his learning journey. We know families who have had two generations attend Rowan’s new kindy. They must be doing something right!

The lovely teachers at our current kindy did one last favour for us before we left. They helped me begin a tradition that will last for the rest of R’s school years. Last year, I came across this post from Lisa’s Workshop and thought it was such a wonderful concept. The idea is to buy a copy of  “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss when your child is still young, then each year you ask your child’s teacher to write a message somewhere within the pages of the book. You then give the book to your child as a special memento when they graduate from high school. As soon as I read about this  I knew I wanted to do it and I began with R’s pre-school teachers. I gave the book to them a week ago so that they had some time to think about about what they wanted write. It was so lovely to read all of their messages and I hope someday R will enjoy leafing through the pages as well. Something tells me though, that when he is seventeen years old and graduating from high school there will be a few things he will want more than an old Dr Suess book (like a new car perhaps!) but I do think someday he will appreciate this. If you think this is a great idea too, but your child is already part way through school, it is never too late to start this tradition. You could even contact teachers from previous years and ask them to write something now. What a wonderful keepsake and one made lovingly over many years with your dedication.

The other little things I created for R’s last day were these…

Spiderman cupcakes!  I asked R earlier this week whether he would like me to make a cake for his last day at kindy. I was imagining something simple. A nice easy chocolate cake with some icing and maybe a few sprinkles. R, of course, had much greater plans and requested Spiderman cupcakes. These were so much fun to make. I’ll post a tutorial next week.

Happy weekend everyone!

February activity trays – V is for Valentine’s Day

These are the trays that I’ve put together for R (3.5) this month. This is something I do every few weeks. The trays usually have a Montessori influence and I try to include an activity to cover fine motor skills, art, sensory play, practical life, literacy and numeracy. R LOVES these “games” as he calls them and this month was his most excited reaction so far. I usually set them out at night after he’s gone to bed so he wakes up to shelves filled with new trays. To say he was thrilled when he saw these Valentine’s Day themed activities would be a a slight understatement. “Oh WOW! Wow! Thank you Mummy! Thank you!” I never push R to pick up these trays and work with them. They are just left on our shelves, all set up and ready to go and he chooses when and how often he will do them. I’ll often peek into the living room when things have gone a bit quiet, just to check that all is ok and there he’ll be, sitting at his table, quietly working, or should that be playing, with one of his trays. Even though each of these activities does have an intended lesson to be learned, I always leave their use as quite open ended. I will demonstrate each tray to R, but then I will leave it up to him whether he chooses to use the trays in the way I’ve shown him, or whether he would prefer to create a new way to use them. I love seeing him use his imagination to come up with new ways to play with these trays. So, here they are…

This is our Valentine’s themed sensory tub. Sensory tubs are by far R’s favourite type of play. The very firt time I created one for him, he played with it for two and a quarter hours straight. That was something to behold given that he was only 2.5 at the time. For our Valentine’s sensory tub, I was inspired by this tub from the completely wonderful Counting Coconuts. I gathered up anything and everything that was red, orange or pink and just threw it in there. I created an eye spy game by taking pictures of some of the objects. R then looks for the items and places them on the photographs as he finds each object.

R really enjoys this game and is very particular about placing the found objects on the photo in exactly the same position as the photographed object, right down to the dice needing to be placed with the same numbers showing upwards as in the photo. Hmmm. Detail oriented or simply inherited his mother’s OCD tendancies?

Here are the rest of our trays. Several of these trays were inspired by these trays, again from Counting Coconuts. Honestly, I can’t rave enough about the fabulous ideas that Mari-Ann comes up with. Mari-Ann is the reason I am so thoroughly interested in Montessori.

 Pipe cleaner beading threading. Great fine motor skills activity. R inserts the pipe cleaners into the holes of the salt shaker and then threads beads onto the pipe cleaners.

 This is how the activity looks once it has been completed. The foam letters are presented on the tray in a mixed pile and R places them in order to match the word in the photo. I created a “love” tray for our Valentine’s Day thee as well as a similar tray with his name in the photo.

Open ended art tray. Paper, glue and lots of miscellaneous materials such as tissue paper, crepe paper, confetti hearts, jewel-like stickers and mini foam letters. This has been R’s absolute favourite this month. He created four pictures within the first twenty minutes of seeing the new trays for the first time.

Pouring confetti hearts from one glass to another.

Creating the lette V on our homemade geo board.

Letter V push-pin activity. Fine motor and literacy. R traces the letters by inserting the push pin into the printed page. This was part of the wonderful set of Valentine’s printables  from Confessions of a Homeschooler. This site has a wealth of ideas and free printables or you can purchase the entire set of Pre-K printables. That’s what I chose to do and we have a folder for each letter, full of printables and activities.

So there you have it. Our trays for February. They’ve been a big hit.

The way to my heart….

Mr Perfect Day and I have never really been big observers of Valentine’s Day. We don’t go for the sentimental cards or the overpriced bouquets. Being the foodies that we are however, we do usually cook something special and have a nice romantic dinner at home. This year, however, I wanted to make it a little more special since R (3.5) is now at an age where he really enjoys special days like this and I love any excuse to celebrate, craft, create or go to town with our meals. So this year, I planned an entire day of heart themed meals. You know what they say though, about the best laid plans……

It all began with this idea which I found on Pinterest. I thought it looked simple enough. Minimal effort for maximum impact. Two batches of pancakes, one coloured pink, one left plain. A heart shaped cookie cutter, and voila! Easy peasy, right? Well, yes, unless you are me whose pancakes inevitably turn into rubber or charcoal. This morning it was charcoal. Now, I am an advocate of  adding one’s own stamp on a creative dish but somehow black heart shaped pancakes didn’t quite measure up to the Valentine’s breakfast spectacular that I’d envisaged. Enter Mr.Perfect Day. Chef extraordinaire. Between assuring me that I wasn’t a failure for not being able to provide my family with a traditional pancake breakfast, he tossed my batter in the trash, and started over from scratch. He cooked the pancakes while I was in charge of cutting and assembly. A perfect team effort. And isn’t that what Valentine’s is all about?

Lunch went more smoothly with some heart shaped chicken quesadillas and watermelon, also cut into heart shapes, naturally. I found the inspiration for the quesadillas at this post from Super Organised Mum.

I kept the quesadillas pretty simple as R is going through a very fussy eating phase. There are a tonne of quesadilla recipes online, but I just made this recipe up to keep it nice and simple. These were so delicious, we all went back for seconds and R gobbled his up. A proud Mama moment since he has been turning his nose up at almost everything we put in front of him lately. These would also be delicious served with some salsa, sour cream and a green salad.

No Fuss Chicken Quesadillas (serves 4)

You will need:

Tortilla wraps

1/2 Barbequed Chicken

Fajita seasoning mix

Avacado

Corn kernels (frozen, tinned or freshly cooked)

Cheese (I used provalone but any melty cheese would work well)

To make:

1. Add the barbecued chicken to a fry-pan set to medium heat.

2. Sprinkle some Fajita seasoning over the chicken (I used about a third of the packet) and a little water to make a paste.

3. Fry until the chicken is warmed and coated in the seasoning mixture and the sauce has thickened a little.

4. Using a heart shaped cookie cutter, cut the torilla wraps into an even number of heart shapes.

5. Butter one side of each heart shaped tortilla.

6. On the NON-BUTTERED side, spread some avacado,then add some chicken, top with the corn kernels, then the cheese. Finally, top with another heart shaped tortilla, buttered side up.

7. Cook in a sandwich press until the tortillas are golden and crispy.

We ended our heart filled food day with heart shaped pizza, again made by the fabulous Mr. Perfect Day. He even arranged the salami into a heart shape! He made my day today. x