Invitations to Play and Learn: Snowflakes With Chalk

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One thing that I love about the “project table” in the corner of the living room is the ability it gives me to present art or craft projects and then see how the children interact with them!

I’m trying to do one a week or so- partly because we need some variety to help keep things going at this time of year and partly because I have accumulated so many art supplies over the years that I feel like we should use them!

This week I thought we should acknowledge the recent weather with a chalk “rubbing ” style snowflake piece.

Preparation:

I keep craft sticks around so I split a couple of wide ones into small sticks with a razor blade. These went into the loose parts tray along with a selection of small pieces of white chalk.

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I then made a sample of a snowflake while the little boys watched and hung it on the board for them.

In order to make snowflakes we put one stick at a time under the paper and rubbed the chalk across the resulting bump. Then chose a different length stick or turned the original stick at an angle to the first stick to create the desired effect.

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The idea of drawing with chalk on paper was fascinating and the little boys and Mouse spent quite a bit of time with this project.

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There was a good bit of discussion on the differences between snowflakes and I think the children plan to try to catch some individual flakes next time it snows so they can look at them more closely.

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Remember….

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Each year as we enter the Season of Lent, I get the privilege of experiencing Lent myself, but also seeing it through the eyes of each of the children.

From the three-year old who is so enthusiastic about “giving up pancakes ” that he tells us about it fifty times a day to the seven and eight year olds who are both giving up some of their reading time which they love, the children enter into Lent joyfully and with enthusiasm. Perhaps they can’t articulate it, but in their hearts they know that Lent is a blessing.

In a small way I think this family living of Lent, the  things we do together and the things we support each other in is a living in community. Imperfect certainly from an adult perspective as the children are still young and grasp the theology as children do (but their praxis is beautiful and exemplary in many ways) so they are not yet the Christian companions that I hope they will be, but still a community in which we are able to hold one another accountable and encourage one another in our spiritual disciplines and devotions.

Even two years ago, this was not true. The children’s sense of Lent was policing each other on the use of Alleluia and not on personal abstinence or spiritual discipline. We have grown together in this, and now Lent as well as Advent has its familiar traditions and markers to help us.

Last year we began counting to 40 before praying for meals and this singing a particular Lenten hymn each day. This year we’ll continue that practice using last year’s hymn at one meal and this year’s hymn at the others.

This year each of the children has chosen something to give up, and the big three have also chosen something to take up:

Jack: “I’m giving up pancakes” (which we don’t often have, but it’s a big deal in his mind anyway since he loves pancakes!)

Bull: “I’m giving up beverages” (by which he means any drink besides water first thing in the morning. The children usually have tea or “pink water” which is a kind of juice)

“I’m going to work on encouraging Jack, instead of telling him “No”.

I listed off a half dozen things he might choose to take up and that’s the one he chose.

Mouse: “I’m giving up reading stories before school. Instead I’ll work on keeping my room clean. Reading before school makes school harder.”

Disciplining herself to clean-up her stuff will be hard but not impossible.

Buggle: “I’m giving up reading during naps. Instead I’ll do something creative.”

The big children giving up some reading time is a real sacrifice. They love to read and generally devour several books a day! Each of them is starting to realize that that much reading isn’t always a good thing though and is trying to learn to restrain themselves somewhat.

Mama: Also giving up reading (in my case fiction) (can you see a theme here? I didn’t suggest the bid kids sacrifices, we just all have the same struggles!) and taking up speaking in a calm, quiet voice (I’ve been yelling /snapping quite a bit lately so this won’t be easy).

The big kids and I will also be repeating our journey through the Gospel of Mark and the Psalms of Ascents. I wrote a little devotional for us last year and we enjoyed the study so much I thought it would be good to repeat it and learn whatever new lessons the Holy Spirit has for us!

If you’d like to join us you can download the devotional here Lenten Devotional: Gospel of St. Mark and Psalms of Ascents (17)wpid-20140420_113731.jpg

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Just Relax (A Parenting Lesson Learned)

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I’m an uptight person. I like things to go according to schedule. I like plans to work out exactly. And I have five kids.

 

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In my early parenting years, I was in a church situation and environment that encouraged uptight parenting. Children were to obey and any deviation from obedience was clearly defiance and should be treated that way.  I was a good parent, pretty tough on “disobedience” and “defiance” and sure that eventually these children would come around.

We had good times, but there was very little joy in the journey and little enjoyment of my children for themselves.

Then we moved and things started to change in some good ways and in some bad.

We lived in a small house that was built in the 1890’s. It had very little insulation and terribly inefficient heat. It was impossible to get it all the way clean, there were always mice in the cold months and I quickly became discouraged and settled for doing the absolute minimum.

In May of 2012 Jack was born and things seemed ok during the summer months, but in the fall it became clear that things were far from ok.

I remember the day so well. It was October or November. Cold, grey, rainy and I was done. Buggle was 5, Mouse was 4 and Bull was not quite 3. We were running the heat and I was running space heaters downstairs and it still was hardly warm enough (it seemed) for Jack to be downstairs. Over and over I told the children “close the door”  and over and over they left it wide open.  Finally I just snapped. I remember screaming at them, particularly Mouse, and seeing them burst into tears. I kept yelling. I couldn’t stop. Part of me was watching the whole scene and saying “stop, stop” but I couldn’t.

In the midst of it all Jack woke up to nurse. That was enough for me to take a tiny step back.

“Guys, I need some space. Go outside and stay there until I call you.”

And I sat down and nursed the baby. So ashamed. Wondering what to do next, knowing I needed to make it right, to apologize and knowing that something needed to change.

I called my mother. She was supposed to come visit that day and I was hoping to catch her before she left and tell her to come another day. By God’s grace she had already left and I got her machine. So I just sat in a patch of sunshine in the front window, where I could see the children. I had no strength. I couldn’t pray. So I sat and cried instead.

That’s how my mother found things when she came. She took one look at me and took the children to the playground down the street. Later we talked and I apologized to the children.

And I called my doctor and got a prescription for an anti-depressant.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Shouldn’t my faith be enough to carry me through tougher times? It had before.

And it wasn’t that faith wasn’t enough. It was. I knew what I needed to do. I prayed, I did all the things that faith does.

But my brain wouldn’t allow me to receive the benefits of faith. I couldn’t get past the discouragement and cold of the house to see the good things. I couldn’t see past the constantly opened door to the way the children played nicely together.

I was used to seasonal depression. I’ve struggled with it since I was in my teens. This was something more and not only were my usual coping mechanisms not working, I couldn’t even try them.

It was the beginning of healing and a change in my parenting. The anti-depressant gave me enough mental space to begin to see that I was creating my own discouragement by wanting everything to go the way I had planned. When things didn’t go that way, I was sure I had failed in some way and became discouraged and depressed.

In May of that year, I went to a blogging conference for Christian homeschool moms. Over and over I heard seasoned moms say,

” Relax.”

“Calm down.”

“Enjoy the journey.”

“Yes, have standards and strive to be the best and draw the best out of your children. But relax and rest in Christ.”

That lesson has stayed with me for four years. It’s a struggle. I still want things to go the way I want them to. But every time I see increasing strife and chaos in the family, I can trace it right back to a mother who has forgotten to relax and enjoy the (often tumultuous ) process of  raising adults.

I still have to work not to yell and fuss. I still have to work not to let Seasonal Depression steal my joy. Some days are easier than others, some winters are easier too.

There are days that are filled with desperate prayers for the grace to relax and hold my plans and desires lightly. But the lesson remains and when I apply it we have a calm home and strife decreases.

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Why We Can’t Live With Chaos

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The last week or so had been rough!

Not only has Daisy turned into a major chaos maker, as she conquers the task of mobility, but our renovation project finished and I’ve been trying to put the basement back together in a way that makes the best use of the space.

We had rented a POD for the duration of the project and all of the tools, toys, sewing supplies, and extra school materials that normally live in the basement were packed up.  I took advantage of the empty basement to rethink how we use the space and now am working to realize the ideas that I have for it.

Here’s the thing though: when the basement looks like a small tornado hit it, none of us is able to feel settled in our home.

I really didn’t realize how disruptive chaos was until I started putting the basement back together. As I’ve restored order down there, the stress levels of everyone in the house have decreased, and the household has become peaceful again.

Now I’m sure I could point to a bunch of particular causes of the increasing peacefulness of the household: some of us thrive on order, the job was stressing me and stressed mama makes for stressed kinder etc…..

I think though that there is a fundamentally  theological answer to the stress of chaos: we cannot thrive in the midst of chaos unless we are practicing our image-bearing and bringing order out of the mess.

Restoring order, redeeming the time and space , and yes, the physical stuff of our very physical lives is Godlike. It is in a very small way a carrying out of the redemption of the universe, a picture of the Incarnation. Not just the redemption and restoration of our souls, but the necessary fixing of the physical. Healing yes, but also giving the physical world the opportunity to do what it was made to do.

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We cannot live with the stuff of our lives strewn about. It stresses us because it isn’t how we were made.

We were made to bring beauty, goodness and truth to our surroundings. Order is where we begin.

Now I know that for many people order equates to an empty, sterile use of space without warmth or homeliness. But that is not how the Christian should understand order.

Look at the Creation narrative:

God separates chaos (the ocean/waters) from the land and then causes the land to produce plants that are good for food and good to look at. He creates animals as male and female pairs in a vast variety, giving them complicated relationships with each and the rest of creation and says that this work is good. He creates man and woman and gives them work to do, that continues His work of creation by tending the garden so that it would be fruitful and beautiful.

So too our work of assisting in the redemption of the world.  We are to bring order adorned with beauty, reflecting the truth of Creator and creation, pointing towards goodness. It is what we were made to do.

 

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Kitchen Kids: A Little Prior Planning (and some work)

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The other day I asked Mouse to run several heads of cabbage through the food processor so we could have coleslaw with our sloppy joes at dinner. She was quite happy to do it, excited to learn how to make coleslaw since she loves to eat it!

A brief lesson on using the food processor safely, and she quickly had the cabbage ready.

Then I made the discovery.

We had no mayonnaise!

Bad planning. And a little girl who was really disappointed. And a mom who needed to quickly find some other vegetable for dinner!

It’e one of the main things that keeps me from getting the kids into the kitchen to cook.

When I don’t have a plan both for the meal and for what parts the children will do, I find it easier to let them play or read than to try and figure out what they can do with the three-year old trying to see everything and the eight month old grabbing my ankles.

But one of my goals is to have them be really competent in the kitchen and for each of them to cook at least once a week. I have to make planning that a priority and then see to it that I follow through on the plan.

 

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Saturday or Sunday afternoons are my time to sit down and plan out the week including the menu. I have been just writing down what we are going to eat, keeping in mind which days are good for the crockpot and when I can do a bit more elaborate stuff.

A few weeks ago though I decided to make a simple menu planner that allowed me to write down what the children would do. That way I could line up the cooking helper for a particular night with what needed to be done and could most easily be managed by whom!

There’s a space for meals themselves as well as space for things I might want to prep ahead or that I will have a child do. I also have a space to write down what I need to shop for so we don’t run into another “no mayo!” situation.

Having everything written down has really made things easier and the children enjoy being able to look at the menu on the fridge and know what they are supposed to cook!

I thought it might be handy for others besides myself so here it is in a handy download!

Kitchen Kids Menu Planner (37) Pin It
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Assigning Jobs In Rotation (How-To Use “The Things That Must Be Done!)

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Several years back I started color coding the children.  At first this was a technique to make it easy for me to tell who had left their stuff out but it quickly became something that made it easier for them as well.  Even toddlers can learn that their cup is the green one, and so is the bin their mittens go in! They know where to put their stuff away and where to find it without needing to read.

I use that technique on the The Things That Must Be Done! (49) list. Each child’s initial letter is written in their color, making it easy to scan down the list and find the orange, pink, purple or green writing.

Here’s how I fill it out:

Bedrooms

Right now the big children are responsible for the bedrooms. We have one room for boys and one for girls and the biggest kid in the room gets to keep it nice for everyone else. This is a good way for them to practice serving their younger siblings and me (since Daisy still nurses at night I need the floor of the girls’ room clear of tripping hazards).

The little boys may help with some cleaning up, some days Buggle will work on teaching them to make their beds or put away their laundry. I don’t allow them to trash the room by emptying their clothes onto the floor while looking for a specific shirt (for example), but I also don’t allow the big kids to harass them about things they’ve left out.

Generally we don’t have toys in the bedrooms, which makes keeping things neat much easier.

So: pick up any clothes, pull up the duvets, make sure your desk is “cleared to zero” and the room jobs are done. Should take 10-15 minutes. Bedroom squares on the chart get an S and an F so I can mark both of the bedrooms as done.

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Kitchen Jobs:

Clear Dishwasher, Clear Dishdrainer, Clear the Table, Wipe the Table, Sweep the Dining Room (Clear/Wipe/Sweep), Set the Table: these jobs belong to the little boys. Bull is the lead (he’s six) and Jack is the learner (he’s 3).  Bull has been doing these jobs for a while, and knows how to do them well (sweeping is still a bit of a trick) so he now has the chance to exercise some “big brother” skills and learn to lead by example and teach his younger brother. I think this is really important for younger siblings. Everyone expects to learn from the biggest kid and giving the littler ones a chance to learn those same leadership skills is something I have to look for and be sure to facilitate.

Loading the dishwasher and washing the “big dishes” (pots and serving things) alternates between Mouse and Buggle. Whichever of them is not doing this job is in charge of clearing and wiping the counters so the dish person has dishes to do. This is an important learning time for them. They each prefer to be the one in charge and quarreling over how the counter person is putting things in the sink, or working too slowly is not uncommon! I notice that this feeling of being inconvenienced has not yet translated into trying hard on their own counter clearing day not to inconvenience the dish person! Clearly there is some further sanctification needed in this area!

Bathrooms

We have one and a half baths and I find it works best to have one child do one cleaning chore in both bathrooms. I alternate Mouse and Buggle and since there are two of them and an odd number of days in the week they each get a chance to do all of the jobs every two weeks.  Sometime this summer I will probably add Bull into that rotation for certain jobs as well.

Laundry

Whoever isn’t on loading the dishwasher and washing dishes, runs the laundry. We try to do at least a load a day (I keep our clothes trimmed back to just a few outfits for each child as this reduce the amount of laundry we do (counter-intuitive, I know, but true!). The washer person is responsible to run laundry through the washer and dryer and bring up the dry loads from the basement for me to fold.

The other big kid is supposed to collect the laundry. This again gives them the chance to serve one another either by being sure to have the laundry collected and brought downstairs or by jumping in and collecting the laundry to wash themselves if the other person hasn’t gotten to it yet.

I fold. I like the chance to see what state people’s clothes are in (are the boys completely out of pants without holes?) and gives me a sense of what I need to make sure has been through the wash before Sunday!

Everyone puts away laundry, with the big kids putting away clothes for a younger sibling. Bull does his own and Jack does kitchen towels, bibs etc. since those drawers are easy for him to reach.

General Tidy

This happens one to three times a day and is the only job that will absolutely happen if we are home at all! I walk around the house and sweep up piles of stuff to be put away and we clear the piles. It’s the only thing I’ve found that keeps us from descending into complete chaos. Everyone works until the job is done.

Other Jobs:

A bunch of stuff only needs to be done once a week. Those jobs get assigned randomly based on who has more schoolwork that week, and other factors. I try to schedule those jobs for the days we don’t go anywhere as well so there is a little more time to complete them.

I really love the way this system. It’s consistent and yet flexible, giving me the ability to stay on track while using routine chores as a time to learn life skills that go far beyond housekeeping!

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The Things That Must Be Done!

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It doesn’t take much for these kinds of piles to occur and not disappear. In a medium sized house with seven people, messes are just a fact of life and getting the cleaning as well as the cleaning up done can be (often is ) a struggle!

I’ve tried all kinds of different methods: individual chore charts, checklists for each room, incentives and disincentives and each method has worked as long as I kept up with it! If I made sure things were checked off and did the inspections of work then the work got done. And if not, then not.

This year as the children have gotten older and more responsible and our lives have gotten busier with activities and a regular weekly co-op, I’ve had a hard time keeping up with a chore system that was too elaborate.

I was also seeing two problems with the system we had:

children had developed extreme loyalty to the jobs on their chart and found it a great hardship to have to do “someone else’s job”

and older children weren’t doing jobs well enough to graduate to something harder and free up their jobs for a younger sibling who needed to be stretched.

One day in frustration I did this :

 

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A simple list of everything that has to be done in a week. No frills, but a clear list of what there is to do, that if we do keeps things running smoothly.

It’s actually not that much. Some of the jobs are done multiple times a day, some once a week. Some of the jobs are done by little kids and some by big kids. The jobs rotate, so no child can claim that they are being asked to do someone else’s job.

Every week during my planning time, I print one of these and fill it out.

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Some weeks I write in an approximate duration for each job and encourage the children to set timers for themselves. Some weeks I don’t.

Jobs are still divided into Morning, Noon and Evening and I post the list on the fridge so that whenever I walk into the kitchen I pass the list and can see what I still need to check off.

 

The big children have been moved up on some jobs and the little boys are stepping up as well. I pitch in as I’m needed but find that more and more my job is to facilitate during chore time.

So I start putting things in the dishwasher for the dish person. I sweep for the clear-wipe-sweep person but I don’t do anyone’s job in full.

It’s not a perfect system. Some days more gets done than others but I am seeing the majority of the boxes checked by the end of the week.

My aim is that this list becomes so routine that we all are able to just do the “must be dones” as they are called for. After all, someday I won’t be there to make lists for them and they won’t be here to clean (or make messes)!

Here’s a blank version of The Things That Must Be Done! (49)

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It’s Early Morning

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It’s early morning here. Still dark out but everyone is up except Daisy. She woke earlier and nursed and bit me and went back to sleep.

Thankfully we have a morning routine that allows the bouncy people to be bouncy and the quiet people to ruminate peacefully.

The children are scattered about the house.

Jack in the living room with me, drinking tea out of his “frog cup” which he is carefully putting back on the coffee table between sips (“Can it hold tea? It’s a coffee table.” he asked).

 

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Mouse in my room- hopefully not spilling her tea on my bed. She’s probably reading and in a bit I’ll remind her to have devotions.

Buggle is in his room. He’s had his devotions and is probably reading too. In a bit I’ll ask him to come down and pour himself a cup of tea. He can’t read for too long in the morning, he gets grouchy (just like his mother).

Bull is in the new play space in the basement. He wakes up all awake and ready to go! I’ll have him jump for ten minutes on the mini trampoline in a bit but I want a cup of tea first (I’m not one of the bounce awake people in this family!) I’ve given him a Lego project from the Thirty Day Lego Challenge  so he’s busy engineering an amusement park ride!

I like this!

Everyone busy with their thing, plenty of space for each one to start their day as suits them best, and (hopefully) come together for morning jobs, breakfast and prayers with good attitudes.

It’s the attitudes that make all the difference in our day. I try to provide a calm, stress free environment but even so sometimes the attitudes are poor once the children are asked to dress and start their day. We have to reset, sometimes sending people back to bed for a “do over” sometimes giving a few minutes of standing in a corner to think.

Isn’t that true for all of us? We all find it not too hard to be cheerful and happy, as long as we can do what we want. The test comes when we have to do something else, and submit our desires to someone else’s needs.

Can we handle it? Or do we pout and fuss?

What do the children have as a model?

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So Here We Are….

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It’s winter.

The first snow that will actually stick is on the ground.

Our fall construction project (replace a length of rotted sill, do some other repairs and upgrade the old wiring to something that isn’t a fire hazard!) is done and I’m moving things back into the house from the POD in the backyard.

It’s a good thing to do this time of year. Rearrange spaces, evaluate what’s worth keeping and what we really don’t need.

I already have a box full of materials for the Used Curriculum Sale at the HEAV Convention in June and I may well end up with another one as well!

I’m re-imagining the use of the basement too. We do school upstairs in the biggest bedroom turned into a schoolroom. The big children have desks in their rooms and can go work there when they need more space without being too far away. The room is sunny and cheerful, a much better choice for schooling in a New England winter than the basement.

The basement is nice too. Finished for the most part, decently lit and with a lot of open floor space. I imagine it as space for play and company. A kind of family room crossed with a study, lined with books, but with space for Lego creations, and exercise equipment to keep people moving on the coldest days.

We have one fold-out bed and I’m searching for some kind of daybed (perhaps with a trundle) so that a family could be put up there with ease.

Our days are crowded with school and dance, choir and co-op. Church and CCD (Sunday School) plus whatever else happens to crop up. Some days seem just too full and are stressful. Others flow beautifully even though they were the stressful ones last month!

Either way we move on and try to give each other some grace.

Just a glimpse from the past few weeks will give some idea of how people are growing and what we’re doing!

 

 

 

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I’m hoping to get back to more consistent blogging.  I’ve got plenty of drafts written on paper, just need to find the time to type them up and get them published! I used to do that during naptime but this fall there were several adjustments that had to be made to naptime and it just took a while to settle out. I think we’ve found our rhythm again though so my working hours are more or less back on the schedule and once I’ve taken care of my backlog of lesson planning I’ll be writing again.

I’ve got some great ideas for articles and for printables as I’ve worked out some of the kinks in our home systems and gotten the solutions onto paper.

 

Anyway, time to go call the children from naps  and get onto the evening stuff!

See you soon!

 

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Loose Parts and Project Space (Invitations to Play and Learn)

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With the coming of cooler weather I recently moved the children’s play table into the living room from the back porch. Our living room runs across the whole front of the house and bringing the able in gave me the opportunity to make a little project space at one end.

I’ve wanted to have space for art for some time, but all of the places I had tried to have it had just become messy and unusable or had tempted children into mischief by not being placed where I could supervise at least a little bit.

This time around I’ve been very specific and intentional about what’s allowed into the space and things are very different.

Over the years I’ve learned that limiting options often encourages greater creativity and I’ve tried to keep that in mind for this space.

To that end I put a six compartment cubby as the storage in the space with the following contents:

  1. Bin of dressups
  2. Bin of trucks
  3. ABC book series the little boys use with their schoolwork
  4. Books on how to draw and sketchbooks
  5. Puzzles
  6. Loose parts tray

On the top of the cubby is the pencil and crayon bin and the lego pad goes on one end of the table along with a stack of paper.

The Lego bin is too big for the cubby so it sits next to it.

I first ran across the concept of “loose parts” when I was reading up on Emilio Reggio educational theory and I really like the idea of giving children activities with open ended but related materials to work with, so in the project space I’ve been trying to keep a supply of “loose parts” available for creative work.

I have a little three part tray that we also use for some of the nomenclature cards the little boys use and it is perfect for presenting loose parts for “art”

A supply of loose parts; foam squares and rectangles and wavy strips of construction paper.

A supply of loose parts; foam squares and rectangles and wavy strips of construction paper.

This was the first set of loose parts I presented to the little boys with a brief demonstration of ways they might be used.

Bull (5.5) took them and made this:

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He told me it was “sunset in the Smoky Mountains” . We vacationed there this past fall and he clearly was working with the materials available to represent something he observed and remembered.

Jack’s (3.5) work looks more like this:

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Sometimes he has a specific idea in mind but mostly he just enjoys the sensory practice of gluing and coloring.

The two of them spend hours at the table both together and apart and I love seeing how their skills are developing with practice and the opportunity to experiment.

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I restock the loose parts every week or so, and the space gets tidied during our regular household tidying times so it never gets messy enough that they don’t want to work there or find it confusing.

The bigger children also use the space from time to time but they have other work areas as well and tend to use those instead. I’m sure I will have to make a few changes as Daisy grows and gets into things but for now this space is exactly what the little boys need!

 

 

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