Friday, June 24, 2011


Daddy's coming home from Iraq!  This week's post is about books and activities that helped our family survive the long year.

The Invisible String is not specific to deployments, but it's a great read for anyone dealing with separation, even just during the school day or sleeping in a separate bedroom.  It's lovingly reassuring without any cheesiness.  Perfect.

A Paper Hug gave us a great craft idea that doubled as a nice present for Dad (see below).  I edited the first line from "Daddy went to war" to "Daddy went to Iraq," for reading in our house. The paper hug craft is one I recommend to anyone who is separated by distance, and could be a great gift for grandparents and other relatives.

Daddy's in Iraq, But I Want Him Back had a catchy title, which my kids sometimes spontaneously repeated in odd places (like the grocery store).  It was one I had to practice a few times, though, to get through it without choking up.  Tough stuff, children's lit.

Hero Dad is an uplifting read, and even though the book dad does soldierly stuff like driving a tank and using night vision goggles, while our dad is more of a scholarly type, the boys didn't seem to care.

One activity we did during the deployment came from the book mentioned earlier, A Paper Hug.  Here is T's paper hug, with the one change being that we used thick red ribbon instead of yarn to measure the distance between his hands. The kids were excited to send their "hugs" to Daddy.

Another thing we always enjoyed was decorating boxes to Daddy.  Sometimes we painted them or put handprints on; other times we used stickers.  Most of these boxes were chock full of artwork and snacks-- whatever will I do with all the art after he gets back...?

No fingerplay this week, but I DO have something for "dramatic play."  :)  The kids made up this game, I swear, but pretty often they'd make me pretend to be Dad.  Then they'd show me around the house as if I'd never been there before, introducing me to the new baby, the guinea pig, the bedrooms, etc.  I felt a little weird about it, and they always made me do a low Daddy voice (sometimes for very long periods), but it kept them happy so I did.  Thank goodness real Daddy can come back and fill in for his part now.

The Sesame Street Talk, Listen, Connect website has some great videos and printables for families going through a deployment.  We got our free copy of the video where Elmo's dad "has to go away for a while" and that helped give the boys words to express what was happening to our family.  It also gave them ideas about how to celebrate the homecoming and made them feel more comfortable with the circus of emotions that happen.  I thought it was good, but we didn't watch it tons.  Just enough.  Sometimes the boys didn't want to be reminded of the whole issue, either, so we took breaks from all these books and videos.  A year is a long time.

We also have a Daddy Doll from Hug A Hero.  To be honest, the voice clip device that goes inside it with Daddy's voice on it is the best part as far as my kids are concerned.

Something else I did that might sound weird or gross but seemed cool to me at the time was to freeze bits of holiday meals for my husband.  So at Christmas I took a partitioned freezer container and put a bit of each item (duck, cranberries, roll, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc.) into the sections.  When he came home on R&R I defrosted his Christmas dinner, along with a slice of "Welcome, New Baby" cake and some pieces of the boys' birthday cakes.  I don't know if these things tasted very good, but he ate them dutifully and at least he knows we were thinking about him.

We got our welcome home sign from Build A Sign.  (Shh, don't tell him.  It's a secret!  I don't think he'll read my blog while he's flying back from Kuwait.  Cross your fingers.) They had a special going on, free banners for military homecomings, so I only paid for the shipping.  The banner is truly awesome!  Be forewarned, though, it takes a very long time to get here.  Bank on 3 months.

My favorite book for grown-ups is You Know When the Men are Gone, a book of short stories that was truly fantastic.  I read it in a weekend.  I get almost all of my books from the library, but this one I bought-- it's that good.

That's it for this week.  We have to go to the airport with our cool sign!  See ya next week for more bookworm fun.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice

The summer solstice is almost upon us, and I'm happy to say that I've found a few good books and activities to help kids understand the science and cultural heritage of solstice celebrations.  Weny Pfeffer's The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice is a detailed yet pleasant exploration of Midsummer that T and I both like.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mermaid Dance is a fantasy tale with pretty illustrations of mermaids having a party.

Under Alaska's Midnight Sun is a cute rhyming book about a girl who wants to stay up until midnight on the solstice in Alaska. It's a pleasant read, and the best solstice pick for younger picture book readers in my opinion.

The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson is the most detailed (and wordy) picture book I found.  Best suited for elementary age kids.

Both the first and last books mentioned had great scientific explanations of the earth's tilting, descriptions of historical celebrations, and art and craft activities at the end.  Making sun tea or smores, for example, or painting rocks to look like the sun and creating a home-made sun dial are some of the ideas I found.

I also like the paper plate and handprint sun at Enchanted Learning .

Here's a sunshine fingerplay I found at Step by Step along with a number of other sun-related pre-school activities:

    Sunshine Fingerplay - by Terry H.The sun makes the outside a warm place to play (arms above head in circle) It makes the flowers grow each day (holding up hands wiggling fingers) The sun hides its face during the night (cover face with hands) But during the daytime it shines - oh so bright (arms above head in circle)

Crayola has a nice coloring page with the earth and sun on it.  I'm still trying to find one that shows the whole earth rotation, with tilting for the seasons.  Do let me know if you find something like that!

Feeling extra motivated?  Try building your own stonehenge with your older child.

I hope to get pictures up soon, but we've been traveling and it's tough.  Come back again next week for some Daddy Deployment stories, crafts and activities!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


This week we're reading books about the circus!  We enjoyed Sidewalk Circus, but like many picture books the story is subtle and takes a bit of active discussion on each page in order to discover the mysteries.

Olivia Saves the Circus is another good one in Ian Falconer's Olivia series and a celebration of the imagination.

Lois Ehlert's distinctive illustrations are, as always, a hit in her book titled Circus. We also like The Secret Circus, which is particularly useful for a budding reader because the phrase "Only the mice know..." repeats itself every page. See below for some bonus circus books after our activities.

Our fingerplay this week came from mom's old book again, Ring A Ring O' Roses:

I Wish I were a Circus Clown

I wish I were a circus clown                     (point to self)
Wish smile so wide and eyes so round,     (Make wide smile with hands and place around mouth)
With pointed hat and funny nose,              (Make a tent of hands and place on head)
And polka dots upon my clothes,             (Point to clothes)
To hospitals and homes I'd go
Where children cried when they felt low,  (Rub eyes with clenched fists)
I'd make them dry their salty tears            (Dry eyes with hands)
By wiggling my floppy ears.                      (place hands on ears and wiggle them)

Next up is our art project, and I found an absolutely glorious one (painting a clown) at my favorite art website, Deep Space Sparkle.  I am away from home still this week, so my chaotic heap o' art supplies is not available.  We used markers instead of paint, and haven't glued it to black paper yet, but it's still pretty neat.

For those interested in a more directed drawing of a clown, there's another nice one Art Projects for Kids.

My Itunes is surprisingly sparse in terms of circus music.  There's a Kindermusik song on there called "Circus Movements," but without any lyrics I'm left guessing what we're supposed to do during it.  Does anyone know?  The next song that comes up is Madonna and Antonio Banderas, "Oh What a Circus" from Evita.  Awesome!  But not quite what I was looking for in our bookworm fun this week.

Fortunately I have a CD of Little Thinker Circus that my dad burned off our old (20 years!) cassette tape from when I was a kid.  The Little Thinker series was so awesome!  I spent hours listening to the tapes-- they were a great blend of narration and music, with time set aside for drawing the wonderful things we "saw" (heard about) on our adventures.  In fact, I've decided that for my very first giveaway, I'm going to send a copy of this fantastic CD to one lucky follower.  :)  To enter, become a follower and leave a comment!

Since we're visiting my parents, our dramatic play activity was to dig out an old wooden circus playset that came from East Germany when I was a kid.  Ah, nostalgia! If you want your own circus playset, Plan Toys has a very nice one, or check out the more expensive Playmobil version. 

One final note: Ringling Brothers has a link to Educational Activities on their website.  What I saw were geared toward older kids, at least grade school.  However, this balancing activity seemed like something we could have fun with and adapt for my younger guys.

For some free circus coloring pages, check

Bonus Circus books:

- Nancy Drew series # 31, The Ringmaster's Secret
- Circus Girl (picture book for elementary school)
- Clown Child (also a picture book geared toward elementary ages)
- Adding with Sebastian Pig and Friends at the Circus (a good one for learning to add)

See you next week, when I think I'm going to try for some summer solstice bookworm fun.  Let's see what we can come up with!

Saturday, June 4, 2011


We're visiting grandparents in Colorado and  we're going for a train ride!  S is a fiend for trains, so even though we did the Little Engine that Could just a few months ago, this week is dedicated to train books and activities once again.  Fun times!

Our favorite train books for babies and toddlers are the Usborne That's Not my Train (great sensory experience), Donald Crews fantastically simple Freight Train, and the rhythmic Chugga Chugga Choo Choo. The last one was the first book S memorized from cover to cover.

By far my favorite kids' train book is Trouble on the Tracks.  So clever!  "Trouble" is the name of the cat, and you can see the 'monstrous' thing lurking in the shadows of toy train illustrations throughout the book.  Fun for reader and child alike.

My kids also enjoy an old classic, The Little Red Caboose, and though it's not my idea of great children's literature, the pictures are engaging and it's fun enough.  The Native American scenes of teepees on the mountainside aren't exactly PC, but for the older pre-k/ kindergarten set it makes for a cultural talking point.

T recently became a huge fan of The Boxcar Children, which is our current chapter book series.  Book One features the boxcar most prominently.

Wow, that was a lot of books this week already, but I would be remiss if I didn't include at least one nonfiction train book.  After all, the kids are like little sponges for information. Stephanie Turnbull's Internet Linked book called Trains appeals to the kids in our house and is quite educational.

This week's craft was fairly simple but could be adapted to meet any number of desired educational goals.  We cut out an engine and some freight cars (artist's choice on the color), then glued them onto a sheet and picked out some freight for them.  Our freight was raisins, peanuts, oats and red sprinkles.  Add some cotton for smoke and you're done!
You can use this craft for talking about colors (making each car a different one), shapes (make the engine out of basic shapes, and use rectangles and circles for the cars and wheels, respectively), counting (different numbers of items in the cars), etc.  The sky's the limit.

T is wearing a Thomas pajama shirt sewed by my old ma.

Now I'll share a fun train fingerplay from the book Ring a Ring of Roses (an old book from my mom's time as a nursery teacher a thousand years ago):

Here is the Engine (hold up fingers in order, starting with thumb)
Here is the engine on the track;
Here is the coal car, just in back;
Here is the boxcar to carry freight;
Here is the mailcar.  Don't be late!
Way back here at the end of the train
Rides the caboose through the sun and the rain.

We even had a train birthday a few years ago, I'll upload some pictures of that after we get home from traveling... simple train birthday cake and a pinata made out of a cereal box.

A while back, my mom used a fabric panel to sew this playmat and my dad cut and painted wooden train play pieces as well as die.  They created some simple rules and a stack of cards with extra directions on them and voila! A do-it-yourself train game.  T really enjoys it, but S prefers to just play with the engines.  If anyone is interested in the word document with the card instructions on it, leave a comment with your e-mail and I can forward it to you. The fabric panel is still available at generic fabric stores like Hobby Lobby and JoAnn's.

For dramatic play we have a few train conductor outfits with toy pocket watches that the kids get out occasionally.  They wore them on the train ride this weekend!

The Persuasions sang a train song medley that encompasses many of the great kids' train songs.  It's on their album "The Good Ship Lollipop."  I also enjoy Johnny Cash's version of the Orange Blossom Special.

To finish off I'll list the train museums we've enjoyed so far, with the hope of many more in our future.  Tell me about your favorite train museum in the comments section, if you have one!

Korea Railroad Museum (South Korea)
Beijing Railway Museum (China)
Laupahoehoe Train Museum (Hawaii)
Monticello Railway Museum (Illinois)
Colorado Railroad Museum (Colorado)

Want some more train activities?  Check out this great patterning one at Making Learning Fun, or a cool cork train at Cork Crafts.  If you have lots of time and energy on your hands, try making a train out of milk cartons from Highlights.  I saved the best for last, though: This Love Train is super cute, and a possible Valentine activity to boot, with a few more train crafts rolled in for fun at the toddler approved website.