January / February Activities with Small Children

One of my goals this year was to plan a lesson / activity around each of the holidays, and I wanted to try to start some new traditions too.  Unfortunately, I have not started off well in this 2012 New Year.  Though I’ve done a few projects for New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and even Groundhog Dog, I didn’t feel very prepared, and I didn’t do anything for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or Washington’s Birthday.  Oh well.  I plan to do this every year, so I’ll make up for eventually.  Since my boys are so young, I have probably done just enough anyway.

To help myself, I’ve just looked up and bookmarked some sites that will tell me the holidays.  Here they are:

2012 American holiday schedule:

Here’s a few visuals and notes about what I did accomplish these past two months. (I’ll repost this next year before the holidays.)

January 1, 2012 – New Year’s Day

For New Year’s, I thought it would be a good time to go over the months of the year with my five-year-old.  He has already learned the days of the week on his own.  I think he’s motivated because he likes to know what our plans are, and he understands that some of our routines happen on a weekly basis.  He almost knows the months of the year, but not quite.

I made these calendars with the boys and laminated them, but I admit, it was more for me than for them.  They had fun creating a list of their “favorites” for 2011, though.  It’s a great item to put into their keepsakes box.

We put a 2012 calendar on one side and their list of favorites for 2011 on the other.  I invited them to decorate the calendars, but the five-year-old wasn’t really into it.  (This seems to be typical of him.  I think decorating is more of a girl thing.)  He did want to cut out his calendar and list and paste it to the construction paper, though.  He also picked the color black – one of his favorites.

I also made this peace dove for New Year’s.  Again, I thought five-year-old might enjoy making it since he likes making so many animals out of paper, but it turned out I did the creating here.  And it turned out rather blah too.  Oh well.

February 2, 2012 – Groundhog Day

If it wasn’t for checking the Internet on the morning of the 2nd, I would have missed Groundhog Day altogether.  Athens has a pretty fun Groundhog Day celebration with Gus, the groundhog who resides at Bear Hollow Zoo.  We may have been able to make it there that morning, but it was cold, and I wasn’t feeling that energetic.  So, I turned to the Internet to help me.

I printed off some fun sheets to color, which you can access by clicking here.  Whereas in the past my boys have not been into coloring at all, I’ve noticed that changing a bit.  They had fun with these sheets, and we hung them on the bulletin board.

I told my five-year-old what the holiday was about, and we watched several videos about groundhogs and Groundhog Day on YouTube.  Here’s a couple, and you’ll find many more on YouTube.

  • Ground Hog Day (2012 HD) – watch a real groundhog take a peek outside his burrow.  I enjoyed the music on this one.
  • Groundhog Day – Get some more information about groundhogs and Groundhog Day history on this one.
It happened to be a lovely, springlike day, so we also went outside to see if we could see our shadows!!
Despite my lack of preparedness, I could tell that my five-year-old enjoyed learning and celebrating Groundhog Day.  At the end of the day, I said, “I’ll have to check the newspaper to see if Gus saw his shadow today.”  The five-year-old said, “I just don’t understand…..groundhogs don’t understand like people do.”  He’s a smart little guy.  I told him, “Yep. The groundhog has no idea what all the fuss is about.  This holiday is just for fun….”
February 14, 2012 – Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d get an early start (unusual for me, if you can’t tell), so we started making crafts a week or two early.  I made this Valentine’s mailbox, and the five-year-old helped me decorate it.  I wrapped a box with some old paper that they had already drawn on.  (I try to recycle whatever I can.)

The best part of preparing for Valentine’s Day was teaching my five-year-old how to make a heart: by folding a piece of paper, drawing half a heart with its center on the crease, and then cutting it out.  Once he opened it up, he was so happy to discover a perfect heart!

However, he couldn’t quite draw half a heart very well, so my five-year-old was very disappointed with his first attempts.  Since he can be quite a perfectionist, he usually gives up when this happens.  I was pleasantly surprised to watch him keep trying this time.  Soon, he mastered heart making, and once he could make some good hearts, there was no stopping him!  We strung his hearts up along the doorway to our activity room and also pinned them to our bulletin board.  It was really fun for me to watch him do the decorating on his own!

We’re lucky to own a few Valentine’s Day books, so we read those too:

  • My First Valentine’s Day Book – This a great book for 2~3 year olds, and my 5-year-old still likes it too.  It consists of simple rhymes, and there are little cards on each page that your child can take out of an envelope and read.
  • The Best Thing About Valentines by Eleanor Hudson – Also for youngsters. A cute book emphasizing how we make our own Valentines and give them away.
  • Valentine’s Day by Cass R. Sandak – This is a great book, but I got lucky and found it at a library sale. It has the history and customs of Valentine’s Day throughout history. It’s for older kids, so I only read my five-year-old a few pages.

We also made (and bought) some Valentines for each other.  I made each of the boys a special card with their names on it and described their personalities and things they like to do.  Similar to the calendar, and it’ll go into their keepsakes box.

Unfortunately, on Valentine’s Day, I was extremely sick with a bad cold and fever, so some other things I had wanted to do will have to wait until next year.  😦

So please tell me, what kinds of traditions do you have during January and February?  Do you celebrate these holidays and/or celebrate other holidays / traditions this time of year?

Gift Ideas for Home Educators

Someone's first Christmas

Do you have homeschooled children on your gift list this holiday season?  Or some precocious children who love to learn?

Homeschooling can be expensive or inexpensive, depending on how much parents decide to invest in it.  Curriculums can cost a pretty penny, but a lot of homeschoolers do without and use materials that they can find at the library or in thrift stores.

Still, the best way to get a child to learn is to lay some interesting materials around the house – a book on the coffee table, art supplies in an accessible bin, a game on a low shelf.  If they think that they are discovering it themselves, they are more likely to want to know all about it!  So homeschoolers will appreciate any extra help they can get to offer fun, educational tools to their children.

Here are some ideas they might love:

  • Family Memberships – What venues do they like to go to?  Most museums, zoos, aquariums and other centers have family or individual memberships that will allow a family/person to have free admission and/or discounts at the facility for a full year.  If you know that the family lives close enough to such a place, it might be perfect for them!
  • Art Supplies – I’m not talking about crayons and markers that you can buy at any grocery store (though kids love and need those too), but real art supplies that you can buy at art stores can make a wonderful gift.  If you don’t think it’s worth buying children good quality art supplies, I suggest you read this post at Camp Creek Blog, “In Praise of High Quality Art Materials.”
  • Ask what they need – You may just want to ask what they need.  Do you know what kind of teaching method they are using?  You may find a store that specializes in it.  In addition, for homeschooling families who purchase curriculum, they may appreciate it if you could chip in on the cost because some curriculums can be quite expensive.  Or perhaps there are certain books or other resources they want but aren’t able to afford.
  • Let’s not forget books, especially if there’s a subject the children are interested in or studying.  And remember, gift certificates will be appreciated too!

Here are some cool online stores that may help you find that perfect gift:

Are you a homeschooler with a wish list?  Please tell me what you would like to receive for gifts this year! Or do you know of another cool place to buy educational items?  Do you make them yourself?  Let me know!

Creating New Family Traditions

 

There’s a time when old traditions need to die, a time for new traditions, and a time when old traditions can be reborn with new meaning.

In years past, I have always felt a little lonely during the holidays.  I wished I had a big, happy family that didn’t live so far apart, so we could all come together and eat a lot of food, play games, and exchange stories.

My husband and I are usually invited to a relative’s home each Thanksgiving, and we’ve always gone, but this year I did an uncomfortable thing and turned down the invitation.  It’s because I began to think about what kind of memories I want to create for my two boys.

Except for my dad and step-mom, we rarely see our Georgia relatives during the year, so for my boys, it would almost be like visiting a stranger’s house on the holiday.  What do I really want for them?  I want them to remember the holidays in their childhood home with their loved ones.

So this year we’re going to have a cozy Thanksgiving at home, and we’ll make a big meal (big to us, that is), and we’ll start the tradition of stating what we’re thankful for at the dinner table.

This time of year has got me thinking about family traditions in general too.  A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother (who is also starting his family) about how we need to create our own family traditions, especially since so many of our traditions were blurred by divorce and moving from state to state.

Shortly after having that conversation, my brother and sister-in-law sent me some books about creating family traditions as a Christmas gift.  The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox and Together Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes are beautiful books that have given me many good ideas.

Yet I’m aware that the best traditions spring forth spontaneously.  I have to be careful about stating, “Here is a new tradition we are going to start…” What if I’m the only one on board that boat?  Traditions need to be something the whole family enjoys.

We all have traditions whether we realize it or not.  Religions give us many of our traditions.  My family follows the Christian traditions of observing Christmas and Easter, and we’ll continue to do so.  Traditions can also be unique to each family.

In The New Book of Family Traditions, I read about a family that every month during the full moon, they go outside and roast marshmallows in the moonlight.  By coincidence, my family took a moonlit walk the other night.  We showed our son where Jupiter was and looked for constellations.  It was so much fun, I’m wondering if I could make that happen every month.  (Or almost every month?)

Traditions can be simple daily exercises.  Some people say grace before mealtimes; others enjoy a slow cup of coffee in the mornings (that’s me).  Come to think of it, I have already started the ritual of telling my five-year-old a story every night. Even if I feel uninspired and tell him a boring tale, he seems to love it, and I know that somehow this is imparting my love and beliefs to him.

And this is what traditions do at their best: They give a family or community a reason to come together and share their love and commonality with each other. This in turn gives an individual a sense of belonging.  I want my boys to feel that being part of this family is important. When life gets tough I want them to have a place to come to and feel loved.

This is why we’ll have Thanksgiving and Christmas at home from now on, and I’ll be looking for ways to expand our old traditions, making them more meaningful to us.  I’ll also be thinking about new traditions I can add throughout the year.

What are your traditions?  Old or new?  I would love to hear what your family does because it may give me ideas for my own.  Please leave me a comment.  And in the future, I’ll write about what kinds of traditions we have started or renewed.

Note: This column was first printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 23, 2011.  You can also view it online here.

And I hope all my American friends have a happy, warm, loving Thanksgiving!