Adieu 2018, bonjour 2019!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m feeling fresh. I wanted to write down some of my goals and resolutions for 2019, and some reflections on this past year.

To recap: 2018 was good to us overall, and busy! The boys have grown so much physically and also mentally, and their personalities blossom more each day. I’ve been working to better my photography skills, and realizing that I need to have creativity in my life, whether it’s through photography, art endeavors, crafts, sewing-and that the kiddos too love to be included in these pursuits (for the most part, they get tired of the Mamarazzi). I got on the substitute teaching list for our local school district, and ran my first 10K with Trevor. I joined the local gym here in FL and plan to continue this wellness endeavor with more gusto in the coming year. I’ve been doing yoga more regularly again for the first time in years, and it feels great. Trevor had a busy year as well, culminating with his final flight with the F-16 after 12 years and now our move to FL for his F-35 TX.

In February we spent a weekend in Phoenix for my brother’s wedding, and then spent the majority of the winter skiing with the kids. Both boys got on skis for the early 2018 season which was pretty cool. Levi was raging all on his own, going up the T-Bar and down every trail. Silas was skiing the Mighty Mite and even did some runs at Jay Peak with his dad. Our driveway washed out completely in early spring, and it was pretty devastating. A freak flash flood (more than an inch of rain in under an hour) cascaded down the hill and the driveway became a raging river, and all the material was washed away down to the landscape fabric. Luckily, we have amazing neighbors and friends, who helped us out to make it accessible again quickly.

We spent most of the summer working on house projects and getting ready for our move.  The boys spent their days outside playing and exploring with friends, or at Gretchen’s where all the big kids were out of school which is always a fun time for them. We (by we mostly Trevor) completed quite a few projects on the house-Trevor built the woodshed, sand shack and new stairs and railings for the front porch which we painted, we expanded my garden and built brand new raised beds out of hemlock and a cedar post fence encircling it, planted some apple trees and berry bushes, poured a cement foundation in the garage and downstairs mud room, added a fire pit, and smoothed out the main yard area. Trevor also got a backhoe which he had been eyeing for quite some time.

We did family camp at Camp Ohana in August, which was a perfect finish to a summer replete with swimming at the river, hanging out with friends, Lake Monsters games, and attempting to backyard camp (Levi and Trevor successful; Alana and Silas not so much). It was a great time and we would love to go back and do it again someday when the kiddos are older. After that we kicked our butts into gear and got ready for the FL move. So far, we are enjoying the warmth and beach access. We only have a few more months and back to VT we go. We drove down to St. Petersburg for Christmas to spend with Trevor’s 92 year old Grams, and I would say it was worth the long drive to see her face watching the kiddos open gifts Christmas morning. She confided that she never thought she’d see little boys have Christmas again. I do not think we will be driving to Orlando for a Disneyworld trip however; nine hours with a two and five year old and almost 10 year old dog is no easy feat as it turns out.

Right now they are watching Avengers, Levi is boogered out, and Silas just woke from a nap. Trevor is hunting, I’m getting dinner going. This is NYE 2018 and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Silas’ major development was speech-it has really taken off and now he’s a chatterbox, telling stories, using his imagination, and going on adventures with his big brother whom he adores. He is always following in Levi’s footsteps, and especially with our move, an incredibly close bond has really come into fruition between them. He skied for the first time in January; it’s bittersweet because we feel he really would have taken off this winter back home, but it is what it is. He finally gets to do gymnastics (Mommy and Me style) and is now somersaulting everywhere. He had his second birthday in March, and we celebrated by inviting his own friends from Gretchen’s for pizza and cake, and it was a good day indeed-little toddlers with playdough, music, and just hanging out. He is really into superheroes and beating bad guys like his big brother, and enjoys Mama School time, even though morning meeting is just not something he can be still for. He loves to ask “Are you my Mommy” because he loves to hear me respond “Always your Mommy,” then tells me he is always my Silas and he “lubs” me. He wakes up every day when the sun comes up and tells Trevor and I if we aren’t up that it’s morning time. He’s our rough and tumble wild man, and this year has really grown so much. With him being our last, it’s bittersweet but awesome (another of his current favorite words) to think that this child is thriving after his rough start in life with ISO.

Levi is also burgeoning, and is always examining, making connections, and now using his brainpower (for better or worse) to push his limits and see what he can and can’t do. He loves to be outside and explore nature. This year he skied all by himself from the T-Bar all the way down the mountain, and had a great season spanning from January to April. He really misses skiing right now and says he prefers snow to the rainy warm winter season here in FL, but enjoys going to Rocky Bayou and going on trails. He learned how to ride his bike sans training wheels at Camp Ohana, and has really taken off here with all the biking paths. He had his first season of T-Ball this year starting in May and ending in June, which was a great experience for him. Trevor has been working with him and now he can catch and hit a ball without a tee! Plus one for a mild winter sans snow. We are continuing gymnastics in Florida and he also does soccer. He ended his soccer summer camp with a smash kick into the goal! He also had his first day camp at the Audubon center, and then a Gretchen summer. He finished his first year of preschool in June, and began his second year in August with Ms. Arielle. He really misses his class since we moved but he gets to rejoin upon our return in the spring. Thankfully his teacher has reached out and we have been able to Facetime a story which has helped ease the transition here. He longs to learn how to read and so we are starting a basic phonics program when Silas naps on our Mama School days. Sometimes he has a hard time handling his anger; we are working on strategies to temper his temper. He is a very emotive child and feels with all his might, for better or for worse. We ended our time this past year in Vermont with his fifth birthday party, which was a Megalodon shark theme, at his request. His grandmother made a 30 ft long Megalodon for the kiddos to play inside and it was a hit. It was a great party, and we were able to hang out by the fire and enjoy time with friends before our Florida sojourn, a perfect celebration of Levi, fall, and the community we have found. He discovered superheroes this year and that’s been the theme for a few months now-he loves to dress up as whoever his current fav is (Batman for Halloween, Captain America the past few days, Spiderman, Power Rangers, he loves them all) I can’t believe how far this kid has come and I am relishing the time I’ve had with him as of late. He is so curious and loves to build-legos, blocks, cardboard, you name it; we may have a future engineer on our hands. He still loves Mama snuggles. I wonder how many more years we have of that.

So after recapping my year I’d like to make a few resolutions-my husband always says they must be tangible so-

  1. Make 2019 my year of wellness in all health domains-less wine, less screen time, more presence with my kiddos, more exercise, and more awareness of my food choice/intake
  2. Being present with my family-so less screen time, less distraction, more patience, less nagging, more connection
  3. Sewing resolutions: a quilt for each boy, a couple timeless garments for myself (maxi skirt, shift dress, tee), shorts/pants and shirt combo for boys
  4. Better my photography-take courses, shoot every day, allow for critique, build portfolio, start business

Happy 2019 everyone!

Dino Week!

Dinosaurs and preschoolers-for some reason, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. Little ones are entranced by the legacy of these prehistoric behemoths, forging connections to the past and realizing for the first time that life has transcended the present, and has gone through many iterations throughout the history of our earth.

My sons are OBSESSED to put it lightly, and a dinosaur theme was requested repeatedly. Dino week was probably the best unit we’ve done so far, and they pretty much never wanted it to end, as all good things do. Here are some highlights of Dino Week:

Dino Counting (printables from Playful Learning, a subscription service for teaching resources)

We used Wikki Stix to form the numbers and used glass pebbles from the dollar store as counters. Monkey 1 is working on counting sequentially  from one to twenty with corresponding quantities. Monkey 2 is working on one to five.

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We also used the letter formation mats from Playful Learning (not pictured). Monkey 1 practiced tracing the letters and Monkey 2 used letter shapes to form the letters.

Dino Painting

Target had these cute dinosaur kraft paper figures, which the boys had a blast painting to make their own “toys.”

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Dino Fizzy Eggs

I used the fizzing dough recipe from 150 Screen Free Activities for Kids to mold into dinosaur eggs around little figurines from Dollar Tree. Add some baking soda and voila! The monkeys really enjoyed the sensory experience and discovering the dinosaur babies! A little alchemy is always fun!

Dino Excavation 

AC Moore had these dinosaur excavation kits for a steal at $5! Monkey One uncovered T-Rex (of course) and Monkey Two carefully dug out a diplodocus. Bonus fun putting the bones together after they were all dug out, just like real paleontologists!

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Dino Fossil Making

This was simply but mesmerized the boys for an entire afternoon. I made up a batch of play dough, and they used their dinosaur figurines to stamp in the play dough to create different fossils. This could be taken a step further and salt dough could be used instead, then dried either in the oven or left out for a few days and then you could keep your fossil indefinitely! Play dough is always a go-to for sensory and fine motor play here.

Block play and art was also centered around dinosaurs too, mostly because all the excitement carried into any other activities they were doing. We also visited the library and grabbed some more books to read about dinosaurs, as our vast dinosaur book collection is in Vermont and we just couldn’t take them all! A few favorites:

Why Why Why Do Dinosaurs Lay Eggs? by Camilla De La Bedoyere 

Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins 

Digging Up Dinosaurs and Fossils Tell of Long Ago both by Aliki 

Some great fictional books that are dinosaur themed are the How Do Dinosaurs series by Jane Yolen, which also teaches young kiddos about taking care of themselves, others, and managing their emotions. There are a bunch of titles with different topics ranging from sleep to being angry and using manners, beautifully illustrated to expose children to these topics in an approachable and fun way.

We ended this unit with a fossil and rock sort, which segued into our next unit (rocks and minerals). I bought a mix of various rock specimens from Dancing Bear. We have a sizeable fossil collection back home but it was another instance of not worth carting cross country for a few months, though it would have been nice for this unit.

Dino Week was a blast! Who knows, maybe we’ll do it again 🙂

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Mama School: Our Ventures in Preschooling at Home-Setup Edition

Mama School is what the monkeys have dubbed our preschool at home. It’s definitely been an undertaking but in the long run my hope is that it fosters more connection between the monkeys and myself, and instills in them a love of learning through play and delving deeper into their own questions and interests about the world around us.

Back home in Vermont, Monkey One attends a wonderful preschool program through our local elementary school, and Monkey Two goes two mornings a week to the home of the best daycare provider in the world for socializing, learning, and fun. Upon our return in the spring, they will get back into those programs, but while here in Florida, I’ve decided to work with them at home, for structure and to give some routine to our days, as I have been unable to find programs that I feel comfortable sending them to here, not that they don’t exist, but we got here after the start of school and there are waitlists abound that will never budge.

Any who, this post is for anyone who is curious about our set-up. We are renting a furnished two bedroom home, so with space being a precious commodity, I had to temporarily disband what was a formal dining room and designate it as our “classroom.” We never would have eaten there-fancy plush chairs were not made for little sticky fingers as it turns out, so those went into the garage, fancy oriental rug was rolled up, and the table itself pushed against the wall and currently serves as a shelf for our supplies. ***Start digression***Actual shelves would have been nice, but hey, we are only here for six months, I attempted to set up an inexpensive cubby shelf from Target, let’s just say it was cheap for a reason, and after what was really a lovely interaction with their guest services, was promptly trashed. ***End digression***So, we have fabric bins and baskets full of blocks, centers, toys, and manipulatives hanging out on the floor so the monkeys can access them. You do what you have to do.

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Ikea has an amazing and inexpensive line of children’s playroom furniture. I spent less than $150 for two tables, chairs, an easel, rug, and a couple of craft supplies. My biggest complaint is that the dry erase feature on the easel isn’t magnetic which is small potatoes. Also, the build quality isn’t made to withstand extreme forces of nature or abuse-it’s just soft pine and particle board but for the price and what it is, it should last long enough. My favorite is the FLISAT table, which was also the most expensive piece, at $49. You can purchase TROFAST tubs which fit underneath for storage, or sensory bins. I bought two small which nestle next to each other (one for each kiddo), and one larger bin that we use for our sensory explorations. The nice thing is you put the table top back over it and voila! Your mess is put away. I also purchased the LATT table and chair set, which, despite being tiny, is a steal at $29 and the MALA easel, $20. For easy kiddo access, various paper, stationary, and bookmaking materials are laid out on this handy utility shelf from Target.

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I find when setting up, it’s super important to make sure certain materials are accessible for the kids-it helps them develop independence and allows them control in their learning. Art supplies like crayons and pencils, stickers, manipulatives, paper, etc should be easily accessible. I put glue, crayons, pencils, and scissors in little caddies, as well a laminated alphabet and number chart for writing. Throughout the day, the kids will grab paper and draw, or write something on a whim, even when we aren’t doing “Mama School.”

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Our classroom doubles as our playroom in this space, and so all of their toys are in it. There are some main “centers” as Monkey One calls them that we keep out during school time-blocks, dress up (drama), sensory/discovery, writing, and art materials. The rest of their toys are put away, or sometimes incorporated with another center or acting as their own center depending on interest-Legos or animals are often utilized in our “school.” I keep materials for various math and alphabet/phonics activities in two separate fabric bins for easy access as well. I will write up a separate post on centers for Pre-K and toddlers to go more into depth what kinds of activities and things to include. I have a laid back approach to it since there’s only two kiddos and I can work with them as I need, but mostly at this age I strongly feel kids learn by discovery and play so I try to be hands off unless I am doing an activity with them that requires more guidance or they invite me to play as well 🙂

Honestly, there are certainly things I would change-the dining table and lack of shelving/bins everywhere bothers me but it’s nice to have a dedicated space for our venture. I feel it makes all the difference-the first few times we tried to organize a morning meeting and do some “work” we were on the living room couch and it didn’t go quite as well. I think having structure and a dedicated area facilitate the learning aspect so much easier than winging it wherever (unless we are outside on one of our nature ventures, then the whole world is our classroom). The monkeys enjoy their space and the teacher inside me feels slightly less frazzled.

Next post in this series-our semi routine, resources, and figuring out what to teach for a play and discovery based experience,

Till next time!

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