Animals Park Outing

Last week all of the boys and I met my mom at a wild animal park and took a safari bus ride through the hoofed animal area. My mom and I were concerned that Olympus might be bored but he had just as much fun as Yukon and North.  Sometimes it is easy to forget in a world of brand name clothes and electronics that no one can resist a giraffe’s soft nose eating out of your hand- teenagers are still human after all!  It was a wonderful somewhat spontaneous outing that ended up being age appropriate for everyone.  Savannah animals ended up being our focus for the week and it was a lot of fun to come up with some fun activities that went along with this.

Activities of the week:

Wild Animal Park Safari Bus Ride

Spotting the Giraffe and Striping the Zebra

Read: The New Alphabet of Animals by Christopher Wormell

            Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul Zelinsky

           Peek-A-Boo Jungle

Watched: Planet Earth: Deserts and Jungles

1. Wild Animal Park Safari Bus Ride
Science: Vocabulary
ImageWe had so much fun doing this and seeing the animals cemented what they were in Yukon’s mind.  Prior to this he would get confused between a zebra and a horse and a giraffe was not worth looking at, but now he talks about them all the time.  Experiences like this are the best kind of learning experience.  Not everyone has this kind of park available to him but there are lots of similar options available in most places. When Olympus was little we lived on the coast and he loved to go to an aquarium in a nearby city that had the tanks that you could reach in and touch everything in- he knew all the types of animals in there before he was three.

2. Spotting the Giraffe and Striping the Zebra
Art: Hand Control/ Colors; Science: Vocabulary
For this art project I drew an outline of a zebra and giraffe and Yukon filled them in with spots for the giraffe and stripes for the zebra. North colored in copies of these as well, he recognized the animals from our trip and had fun giving them some more exciting colors and patterns.  The PDF’s for this project are attached: Zebra and Giraffe Outline

3. Reading
Reading and Writing: Listening to stories, Letter awareness; Science: Vocabulary
The boys enjoyed the books for this week.  North liked the Peek-A-Boo Jungle book the best and Yukon thought Z is for Moose was hilarious and liked naming off the animals he knew in The New Alphabet of Animals.  I think it is important to expose the boys to lots of different books and text.  Research shows that learning letters happens best/ easiest when taught in an authentic manner (as in exposure in context).  Yukon is very interesting in letters right now so we will probably start spending more time on letter activities.


Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has never been one of my favorite holidays for a variety of reasons, but this year I seem to be more in the spirit. I had fun planning out two weeks of activities for the boys. Yukon is very into holidays right now and has been asking to visit Santa for a few weeks. The concept of “you have to wait until next year” is way beyond him, so Valentine’s Day has been a fun distraction. We had a wonderful 2 weeks and I have planned for tonight a special candlelit dinner with all of us.

Here’s what we’ve done the last two weeks:
1. I love you to Pieces Activity.
2. Hands that hold our Hearts Activity
3. Made Crayon Hearts for Friends
4. 14 Reasons Why I Love You (for Olympus)
5. Made Pink Cookies
6. Watched the Bernstein Bears Valentine’s Day Episode (youtube)
7. Trip to the local library where they read V-day themed books
8. Read: You Are My I Love You by Maryann K Cusimano and Satomi Ichikawa
9. Candlelit Family Dinner

I Love you to Pieces Activity:
Skills and Knowledge: Art: Colors, gluing, cutting/ Social Studies: Holidays

What you need:
Construction paper in pinks, reds, purples, and/ or white

017Pretty simple really and very similar to other activities we’ve done for other holidays. I cut strips of construction paper and had Yukon cut the strips into smaller pieces. You might need to help by holding the paper and letting your child concentrate on using the scissors at first. They get the hang of cutting fast though. Then I drew a heart on another piece of construction paper. Yukon then glued the pieces into the heart shape I drew. Yukon loves gluing- LOVES IT. He doesn’t like glue sticks though, which I find kind of strange. I then added the words “I love you to pieces” to the paper. We made this for White Knight.
Original Idea from:


Hands That Hold Our Hearts Activity:
Skills and Knowledge: Art: Colors, gluing/ Physical: Body Parts/ Social Studies: Holidays

What you need:
Construction paper in reds and pinks015
Paint in reds and pinks

I wanted to make a wreath of the boys’ hands for our door for Christmas but never got to it in December and decided to just go ahead and do it for Valentine’s Day. I had Yukon and North do some finger painting with Valentine’s Day colors. I was hoping that they would get some hand prints on the paper but it didn’t happen. North had a blast smearing paint everywhere and Yukon hated having the paint on his hands and wanted his hands washed every time I gave him a new paper. Finger painting with 2 kids is 4 times more work than with 1! After their painting dried we traced out their hands on plain construction paper and I traced those on the paintings and cut them out. Olympus made his own hands when he got home from school. Yukon and Olympus then glued the hands on another piece of construction paper cut into a circle and I added the words in the center.

Crayon Hearts:
Skills and Knowledge: Art: Colors/ Science: Cause and Effect/ Social Studies: Holidays, Giving

This was so much fun! I had seen it all over Pinterest and for some reason we had never done made them despite the growing number of broken crayons that Yukon refuses to color with. We made them as Valentine’s for Yukon’s friends and he talked about the colors they like as he filled the hearts. His best friend got quite a few made for him- they ended up coming out looking like camouflage! I love that we got to talk about a holiday, colors, and that crayons melt when hot! Social Studies, Art and Science.

What you need:
Bowls to separate colors
Knife to cut up crayons

Step 1: Separate out the broken crayons and peel their wrappers off. I found it easier to group them by color as I did this because some of the colors, especially purple, are hard to figure out later without coloring on something.

Step 2: Cut the crayons into smaller pieces. I cut mine between ½ of an inch to ¾ of an inch. I put each color group into a separate bowl.

Step 3: Yukon filled a silicone heart mold with the different crayon pieces. Eventually, Olympus and even I couldn’t help but do a few. Martha Stewart used a metal mold so I’m sure those would be fine too, I just happen to have a silicone one.


Step 4: Bake the filled molds at a preheated oven at 170° F for about 40-60 minutes d019epending on the size of the mold. When the crayons are melted pull out the mold and allow the crayons to cool. Pulling the mold out was a little tricky with the silicone mold as it wanted to tip over on me and if we do them again I would probably put the mold on a baking sheet.

Step 5: When cooled and hardened simple press them out the mold. If you’re using a metal mold I would imagine you would flip it over and tap and if they won’t come out stick them in the freezer for 30 minutes and try again.

We attached these to a few coloring pages out of a dinosaur coloring book for a simple and candy free Valentine for Yukon and North’s friends.


14 Reasons why I love you
Skills and knowledge: Social Studies: Holidays
Olympus loved these hearts. I wish I would have thought of it years ago as an inspiration for reading. Regardless, he thought they were pretty special and didn’t even bother to be 14 and pretend he didn’t care like I half expected him to. I think they will have to become a tradition.

What you need:
Construction paper- I used pink

020Step 1: Cut 14 hearts out of the construction paper. I find it easiest to fold the paper to the desired half width and then cut half a heart into the folded edge. This makes a symmetrical heart- otherwise the lack of symmetry drives me nuts.

Step 2: Label the hearts 1 through 14 on one side.

Step 3: Write “I love you because ________________” and fill in the blank with something different for each heart on the blank sides of the heart.

Step 4: Starting with the 1st of February tape a heart number side out to their door every day until Valentine’s Day. I ended with “I love you because you are YOU!”

The original idea for this came from


Cookie Making
Skills and Knowledge: Social Studies: Holidays, Sharing / Science: Measuring/ Art: C013olors, Shapes, Shaping Dough

For making cookies Yukon and I made some very good White Chocolate Cherry Shortbread Cookies from Mel’s Kitchen Café. He helped me with the measuring and making the cookies into ball shapes. They turned out very pretty. North has helped dump things into the mixer to make cookies before but I find that my patience is exhausted for a week after having a 1 year old AND a 3 year old helper at the same time so now we trade off who gets to help.
Cookie Recipe Here:


We also had a play date with a friend of the boys’ from the neighborhood who invited us over to decorate heart and lip shaped cookies. North actually had the most fun with this and went through twice as many cookies as the other boys despite being so much younger. All three boys shared the sprinkles very well and I learned that using Ziploc bags for the icing makes life so much cleaner. Our friend filled a bag for each boy and cut a small hole in one corner. I realize this is not a revolutionary idea but for some reason I had never realized how much easier this squeeze bag would be for little boys than cups with butter knives. I guess we all can learn things from play dates.



Living vs Non-living: Scavenger Hunt and Growing a Pineapple

We love to go for walks and hikes, especially Yukon and North. Yukon has been expressing an interest in what the things we see on our walks are for a while. He really likes seeing animals and water but had begun paying attention to the plants last summer. He likes to pick up sticks and show me which tree they me from. Last summer we would point out the different colors of the flowers. North copies his brother and is always dragging a stick behind him when we walk.

Being outside this time of year, especially when Winter taunts me with a warm day, makes me want to plant something or go dig in the dirt. I had been thinking about how much fun it will be to plant seeds with Yukon this year, but it is way too soon to begin here. When I saw pineapples on sale at our local grocery store the other day I was so excited. I immediately knew that Yukon and I could plant and grow a pineapple tree!

On our walks last week and this week we looked for things that are alive (trees, bushes, grass, squirrels) things that are not (water, dirt, rocks). I desperately searched for signs of spring and saw some leaf buds but nothing exciting. Then Yukon came running up to me with a little flower he had picked for me. It turns out that some little violas decided to show their happy faces in a sunny spot in our yard. I’m a little concerned for what will happen when we get our next snow storm, maybe this weekend, but mostly I just keep going out to visit with them.

For this week we have:

1. Compared living things versus non-living things

2. Pointed out the parts of a plant

3. Scavenger Hunt Walk

4. Trimmed the pineapple and let it soak in water

5. Watched: The Magic School Bus Goes To Seed and Magic School Bus in the Rain Forest (you can probably get them at the library or from youtube)

6. Read: The Magic School Bus: Plants Seeds (same as the show) and Forest Explorers: A Life-Sized Field Guide by Nic Bishop (less reading and more pointing out things in the large pictures.

Living things versus non-living things:

I decided to keep it really simple for Yukon in talking about things that are alive and things that are not. For the sake of his three year old mind we kept it at: living things drink water and non-living things do not. For the most part he understood this idea. He knew that he drink waters and so do all the members of his family, including our dog. He was able to transfer this idea easily to other animals and insects. Plants that we saw he did okay with. He struggled with the dormant plants being alive until I equated them with sleeping and then he was able to comprehend.

Things that were not alive were much more difficult for him. He got that rocks didn’t drink water, but he really wanted the plane flying over us to be alive and he still will not believe me that dirt does not drink water. Perhaps we will be talking about the water cycle sooner than I planned? He’ll figure it out eventually- maybe when we plant our rooted pineapple plants- there is no point in arguing with a 3 year old with something set in his mind.

Parts of a plant:

I just pointed out the part of the plants we have around our house. These are the ones he knows: Roots, Stem/ Trunk, Leaves, Fruit/ Seeds/ beans

Scavenger Hunt Walks: Late Winter Early Spring Scavenger Hunt

For this Scavenger Hunt we walked in the forest behind our house. The pictures and items we looked for are attached in a PDF above. To draw them I either sketched them or used an online tutorial for “how to draw ___.” I am not an artist. Please don’t judge the artwork as it is simplistic. I included on the Hunt a deciduous tree and a coniferous tree, I present them to Yukon as trees that have lost their leaves while sleeping in winter and trees that still have their leaves or needles and presented the scientific terms for the sake of vocabulary building but I don’t really expect him to remember the terms this go around. North was even able to participate in the scavenger hunt finding some of the items that he is familiar with like sticks and pinecones.  Yukon did very well classifying the items as living or non-living.

Growing a pineapple:

There are instructions all over the internet but I found the most helpful site to be here:

1. Remove the top of the pineapple leaving about a ½ to a ¼ inch. While I removed the top of the pineapple from the fruit we talked about fruits that we like and that they came from plants and sometimes they grow into new plants. Pineapples actually worked great for this project because the tops already look like baby trees.


2. Trim up the pineapples to prevent rot. Yukon helped me trim up the tops. It took a lot of help from me to guide the scissors to prevent major damage. Remove some of the lower leaves by peeling them back. They should just peel off with some gentle tugging around the base.


Lots of concentration!

3. Let the tops dry out overnight or for a few days, again to prevent rot. We let them dry out overnight.


4. Put them in water and wait for them to grow roots. The next day we filled a bowl with water and put in our pineapple fruit tops. While we worked on this we also talked about how living things need water. He was very concerned that our “baby trees” have enough water and then when we had them sitting a in bowl in the center of the table, where Yukon decided they should go, he needed some water too.


5. When they show root growth plant them in a porous clay pot, with a base to catch water. First, put in something to prevent soil from draining out of the hole, and then add a layer of rocks, and finally soil. Some of the websites advocated specific soil; however I plan on using the potting soil we have in the garage. We’ll see how it goes. When you plant the pineapple try to avoid getting dirt into the leaves.

6. Maintenance: The plant should be watered about once a week and the soil should be moist but not wet. As it grows the original leaves will die and new ones will form in the center. Cut back the dead leaves.

Overall, this week’s lesson has been a huge success. Yukon appears to understand living things versus non-living in most cases. He also now identifies seeds and fruits with baby plants. All the boys enjoyed finding things on the scavenger hunt and the Magic School Bus shows and Yukon loved the big field guide, even though it is not the same as our forest. He also loves changing out the water in the pineapples every day. Hopefully soon we’ll see some roots. I’ll let you know.

Kindergarten Ready

So a question that a lot of my friends have brought up is what does __________ (insert child’s name) need to know to be ready for kindergarten? There are a lot of resources online that sometimes disagree with each other.  What you need to know is that kindergarten is not the same as it was in the past.  Kids are expected to come in with more skills and knowledge and work for longer periods of time doing “seat work.”  I have a personal gripe with our current educational system that I will reserve for another post in full detail, but just so you know I don’t 100% agree with how and what I’m about to put out here for you (I promise I’ll explain later).  I have broken up what kids need to be able to do into a handy chart  (I love charts and use them for everything, including organizing my pantry).

Please remember that all kids are different.  Their brains are developing different sets of skills in different periods of time.  Maybe your friend’s child knows all their letters and sounds at 2.  That’s great, but I bet that there are other things that your child does way better too.  If your child takes a little longer IT IS OKAY.  They will learn to read or write or do math.  They will be fine as long as they know they are loved and that they have things that they are good at. So don’t always focus on areas that your child struggles with, instead challenge them in areas that they are good as well. If you do an activity and your child loves it keep presenting activities in that subject area, continually challenging them to improve on this area.  If your child has no interest or struggles to complete an activity, move on to something else and come back to it in a few weeks or months.


  Reading and Writing Math Science Social Studies/ Skills Physical Art/ Music
Skills 1. Recognize letters in print and not in order.

2. Recognize letters in words and know the letters of their name

3. Hold a pencil

4. Write first name

5. Listen with interest to stories

6. Sequence events when telling about something

7. Copy different shapes

8. Uses pictures to communicate ideas

9. Sequence pictures to tell a story

10. Retell information from a story

11. Scribbles with pencil to “write”

12. Orient a book and know   direction text follows

13. Rhyme words

1. Counting items to 20

2. Sorting by: color,   shape, and size

3. Recognize simple   patterns and duplicate them


1. Similarities

2. Differences

3. Opposites

4. Ask questions

5. Common kindergarten   science curriculum works on observation through senses to explore themes such as:   “world around us” including topics like: living vs non-living, life cycles, etc. so exposure this type of thinking is useful prior to kindergarten

1. Accept being told no

2. Wait turn

3. Work independently on a   project

4. Follow multiple step   directions given verbally

5. Tell OTHER people needs

6. Play well with other children

7. Clean up after playing

1. Take care of themselves   personally (put on clothes, zipper, shoe laces, etc.)

2.Walk in a straight line

3. Throw a ball

4. Run, jump, hop on 1 foot

5. Stack small blocks

6. String beads


1. Holding a crayon/ pencil

2. Coloring

3. Cutting

4. Gluing/ pasting

5. Make different shapes   out of play dough

6. Sing simple songs




Knowledge 1. Recite alphabet

2. Know letters in print

3. Recognize own printed name

4. Identify letter with sounds (some schools)

5. Vocabulary!!

1. Recite numbers to at   least 30

2. Know numbers through 10 in print

3. Know numbers that come before and after a named one to 20 (some schools)

1. Seasons

2. Vocabulary


1.  Personal Information: Name, address, phone   number, parents names

2. Vocabulary: days,   months, etc.

1. Basic body parts 1. Colors

2. Shapes


The sources I used include:,,, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Kindergarten

Why have kid’s books and DIY Rain Gutter Shelves


Shelves 1My White Knight despises clutter. So do I. Tragically, he considers books clutter. Me? Not so much. I used to have books on the floor, counters, bathroom, and pretty on much every open space. It was awesome. I always had choices of books to read wherever I went and was often in the middle of 10 to 15 books at a time. Olympus was always looking at books and having me read to him. My librarians’ soul was at peace. I might also mention that they were cataloged and alphabetized. There was a plan to placement (usually).

Enter White Knight. He’s a minimalist. He wanted me to downsize on BOOKS! Needless to say this has been a major complication to our romance over the last decade. Being the research loving book hoarder that I am, I did some research on the benefit of having a house full of books that has had a major impact on my marriage. As in he gave in with a condition. I just have to find a place for all of them; that does not include the floor, counters, or bathroom- which is not always easy as the library has expanded over time.

What was this research that quite possibly saved my marriage? It turns out that:

1. The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school. National Commission on Reading, 1985
2. The only behavior measure that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home. The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions, 1998.
3. Just 15 minutes a day of independent reading can expose students to more than a million words of text in a year. Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988
4. Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 2010.
5. IF YOU WANT YOUR KID TO READ, GIVE THEM BOOKS! Me, At least once every six months.

In my quest to find solutions to book placement problem I have gotten quite creative. Since we moved six months ago I have put up shelves in several rooms but my favorite are in Yukon and North’s bedroom. They are rain gutter bookshelves and I love them for many reasons. First, I did it by myself. Second, it was east. Third, it was cheap. Fourth, the boys don’t dump every book on the floor looking for the one they want. Fifth, and most important, Yukon and North are looking at books at least twice as often independently.

In doing this project I found that the directions that I found on at least 6 websites were a little incomplete. Though my favorite was from this site:
Here is how I did it:
 1321. I used vinyl gutters instead of metal. They were prettier.
2. They came in 10 foot pieces. I made two five foot pieces by asking a person at the store to do it for me. They used some very heavy duty clippers and were done in about two minutes (they had some issues around a corner). Make sure to get right and left end pieces, (I used two of each) and at least two attachment pieces. If you are going to load up the books get three.
3. Put the hangers and end caps on the gutter before attaching to the wall. I say this because with the first one I didn’t and it took some effort to make them fit (as in I was worried about pulling the hangers out of the wall) and it was way easier the second time when I put them on before attaching.
4. Use a stud finder to find your studs (I smirk every time I think about this tool).
5. Measure from whichever is the closest, the floor or the ceiling, to the spot you will be hanging the shelf.
6. Line up the gutter to your marked spots and check to see if it is level. It would have helped to have had two people for this part. I drew a line across and then checked the line, but if you had two people this would be unnecessary.
7. Drill into the wall where you have marked that the studs were along the line where you want the shelf. Make sure you are drilling into the stud. I missed. Twelve times. I tried not to be mad.
8. If you miss, now or later, you can cover up the extra holes with some putty and paint. I chose to do this later.
9. The assembled shelf was very light weight and I could easily hold it up to the wall with one hand. Use screws to attach the shelf with the attachment pieces. Make sure you are lined up with the holes you already drilled into the stud.
10. Fill with your favorite books!

My total project time including the time it took to go to the hardware store was a little less than two hours.

Bingo Blotter Letters

Last year about this time I was reading different blogs and I came across this idea for using a bingo dotter for learning letters. I wish I could remember where I saw it because I’m sure this mom had other great ideas. I immediately filed the thought away that Yukon would probably love learning his letters this way in a few more months. Then school started up again for the spring semester and they never got made.

Two weeks ago I was trying to come up with new ways to teach Yukon letters, when the idea came back to me one night as I was rubbing cramps out of Yukon’s legs (does your toddler get leg cramps at night too?). The next week I spent working on them in my spare time. As it took several hours of my time, which was rather mindless and I stewed about how Yukon had better like doing these OR ELSE, I decided that no one should ever have to go through that again. So feel free to download and print these.

Monday, Yukon had a blast using the blotter. He went through the letters very quickly so I think I will come up with other bingo blotter activities for him.

Upper case letters for dotting

The Why

I have thought a lot about if I should start a blog and what my primary reasons for wanting to do so are.  As I am finally taking the first steps in a blog I find my reasons being the same ones that drove me to become a teacher and then after years of loving my profession to leave it and move on.  I love kids of all ages.  I love their curiosity and passion for the moment and believe that those two factors are the primary drive behind the incredible ability to learn.  Between my years in a classroom and what I have learned and am learning teaching my own children I feel like I have lot of strategies and tools that work, even for those kids with learning disabilities.

I worked with thousands of kids over the last decade from the ages of 8 to 18 and found that each one was special- they had their own unique interests, talents, and difficulties.  No two was ever alike and while some were easy to teach, others were a challenge either because of traditional learning challenges, personality, or home life.  I left the world of traditional education in 2013 and there is not a day that I don’t miss the kids. That being said, teaching can be a difficult profession and I found that my health and the education of my own children were suffering and I needed to take a break.  When my White Knight received a promotion that required us to move, we decided that it would be best for our family for me to stay home with our boys: Olympus, Yukon, and North. 

The past 9 months have allowed me to focus on educating my own children.  Olympus, 14, is an amazingly bright boy who has been labeled as special education because of difficulties he has in the traditional education setting. He struggles with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and ADHD. Now finishing up his 8th grade year at a traditional school he reads at grade level, is an advanced math class, and continues to struggle with writing.  I plan on spending a lot of time sharing what has worked to help him learn to read and keep his love of learning and self-confidence. Yukon, 3, is an active happy boy who I am doing preschool at home with and I will share what he is working on that is a success.  North, 1, is an enormous beast of a boy who loves to snuggle.  As he gets older I will share what works for him. My hope is that other parents and educators can take what I have learned and use it with their own kids, both those at home and those in the classroom.