Invitation to Sensory Play: Playdough With Spices and Sprinkles

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Playdough is a favorite around here! I generally keep a batch where Jack and Bull can get it at any time as well as a bowl of playdough toys to experiment with.

Sometimes it seems as though playdough will keep them occupied for hours and sometimes they need some parental input to really get going. As I’ve been reading more about Montessori  and Emilia Reggio  approaches to education I’m starting to add some spark to the children’s play by putting together invitations or opportunities to explore a certain set of items or concepts.

The other day we needed a new batch of playdough and since I was out of food coloring the playdough was going to have to be white. While I was double checking my baking cupboard for coloring I found the sprinkles left over from Christmas cookies and decided to offer the little boys the invitation above:

Playdough in a doll’s blow (brand-new, soft and warm)

Four plates of things to add to the playdough or just taste

Hundreds and Thousands


Ground Black Pepper

Whole Anise Seed

The sprinkles don’t have much scent but the pepper and anise are both distinctive in their smell as well as taste.

Out to the porch, where they sat at their playdough table!


Mixing visuals and tastes/smells is a serious business when you are four and two! They tasted the components and Jack tried a bite of playdough but spit it out again!

Sensory play quickly led to imaginative play as they decorated “birthday cupcakes” for their stuffed animals.



wpid-20140717_101920.jpgLater they rolled out “cookies” and decorated them.  Altogether they spent about an hour on this exploration mixed with imaginative play.  Since playdough is so easy to make we will definitely do more of these explorations. These kinds of things are so good for improving fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and reasoning skills as they figure out the order they need to do things in to accomplish what they imagine!


Quick and Easy Playdough


  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 2 Teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • Coloring of some kind; my favorites are ground up dye pellets left over from Easter and Gel type food coloring


  1. Put all ingredients in a pot and cook and stir over medium heat until it forms a soft ball
  2. Turn out on a table or board and add coloring of your choice, kneading until smooth.
  3. Be CAREFUL the dough is HOT when it first comes out of the pot!
  4. Store in an airtight container.
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Kitchen Kids: Glop by Mouse

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Kitchen Kids: Glop by Mouse


  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large can baked beans
  • 1/4 cup of sweet relish or chopped sweet pickles
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 T mustard
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • Salt to taste


  1. Brown ground beef over medium heat, stirring frequently to break into small pieces
  2. Open baked beans and add to beef
  3. Mix Relish, Ketchup, Mustard and Brown sugar together and add to beans and beef
  4. Heat through, stirring occasionally
  5. Serve with a vegetable such as green beans and applesauce
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Kitchen Kids,



One of the things I really want to make a regular part of our lifestyle/homeschooling is teaching the children skills they will use all their lives.  I want them to be capable but I also want them to have exposure and practice with a wide variety of skills so that they can learn what they enjoy and what they find relaxing or satisfying.

Cooking is a big deal to S and I (we cooked for our own wedding!) so the children have always been in the kitchen with us. In recent months though I’ve realized that while the little boys were still enjoying “helping” in the kitchen the big children needed more of a challenge!

Time to teach them to cook a full meal!

I started with Mouse and a meal that is a favorite of my childhood.  The name of the dish is “Glop” and Mouse was able to make it by herself while I did other things in the kitchen and gave her instructions.

It’s a meal that we all enjoy and is both simple and inexpensive.  No leftovers is always a good sign!

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Evaluating The Past Year

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Now that I’m home from convention and we have finished up our last few subjects my mind is turning to planning the new year and using all of the materials I purchased in June!

This is our fifth year of homeschooling and while on one hand I’m starting to feel like I finally have some sense of what I’m doing on the other hand I will be teaching three grades this year, plus some kind of “tot school” for Jack! The third and fourth graders have enough of a foundation now that we can start to add in some additional subjects (Latin, Art, Bible) and I feel like I can also step the requirements in areas such as neatness and diligence up a notch!

Time to make sure I have the year well planned out before I forget all my neat ideas and the January doldrums hit! Blogging over at the Home Educators Association of Virginia today! Join me?

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Pleasant Places

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The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. Psalm 16:6 (NASB)

This first summer in New England continues to amaze and delight me. Warm, but not hot and humid days, cool nights, gardens that grow and blossom lushly. The doors and windows stand open and the children spend every possible moment in the backyard.



When we leave the house there are creeks to splash in and explore. We come home tired and wet and full of what has been seen and experienced.


We’re down to just a couple of subjects for each child and should be wrapping up school in the next week. Of course I’m already planning out next year, trying to do all of my printing and copying before we begin again in August. Too often I have great ideas for the year and then lose them when the time comes in the curriculum. I want to avoid that this year and also have plans for what the little boys will do when their lessons are done and the others are still working.

It’s a time to refresh, to rest, to slow our days and rejoice in new places….

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Where We’ve Been: 2014 HEAV Convention!

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Legos gave the little boys a welcome break from sitting in the stroller while I looked at curriculum or talked to special needs parents

Legos gave the little boys a welcome break from sitting in the stroller while I looked at curriculum or talked to special needs parents

Bull loved the Instrument Petting Zoo and tried a couple of instruments

Bull loved the Instrument Petting Zoo and tried a couple of instruments


Mouse was fascinated by the medical displays- she touched a lung and listened to a baby with different kinds of breathing and heart issues!

Mouse was fascinated by the medical displays- she touched a lung and listened to a baby with different kinds of breathing and heart issues!


On Friday and Saturday I spent a good portion of the day doing Special Needs Counseling, Friday the little boys stayed with their old babysitter and Saturday they hung out with me at the convention. They did beautifully- playing with some of the learning toys I had bought the day before and Jack even took a nap!


After eight days away from home (we came down earlier in the week in order to visit friends and family), we were all happy to return and get back into our regular routines!


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Continuing Education

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I had a moment of panic yesterday when I realized that I was leaving for Virginia and the HEAV Convention next Saturday and I haven’t finished my list of curricula, picked the workshops I want to attend, made the things I want to sew to help keep the little boys occupied or figured out how to avoid the worst of the traffic around New York City and Washington DC!!!

Well, today it is raining and the distractions are (theoretically) fewer (although the exterminator is coming this afternoon to check for termites) so I should be able to finish most of those tasks after all!

I’m actually pretty clear at this point what books the children will be using. What I haven’t decided is what books I’m buying for myself.

I try every year to add a few books to my “homeschooling library” either because they are books I want to read, books I want to be able to lend out, or books I want to be able to reference.

My "library"! Teacher's manuals, reference and encouragement all together in one place.

My “library”! Teacher’s manuals, reference and encouragement all together in one place.

I think it is so important to keep educating myself on methods of teaching, on how children learn, and also to have a group of books that have more to do with life than with education as well as some books I can pick up for inspiration and encouragement.

Sometimes I buy books by a speaker who’s workshop I’ve attended as I find having the book to be a good way of reminding myself what I learned or was encouraged by six months after the fact.

Last year those books were Heidi St. John’s Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Daylight Managing Your Days Through the Homeschool Years
and The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance: Nurturing Your Marriage Through the Homeschool Years” as well as

Sally and Clay Clarkson’s Educating the WholeHearted Child — Third Edition

Rachael Carman’s How to Have a HEART for Your Kids

I was blessed and challenged by all of them.

This year the following books are on my list:

Susan Wise Bauer- The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition)
: This will go into the reference section of my library

Clay Clarkson
- Heartfelt Discipline
: I already have this on Kindle but I want to be able to loan it out.

Mary Jo Tate: Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms
: I’ve read reviews of this and it seems good, so I’ll be taking a look at it to see if I want to add it or not.

Judi Munday’s book on writing IEP’s for homeschool students with special needs. This will be a loaner.

Things I’d like to add but don’t have specific titles for yet

A guide to Montessori style learning at home.

A guide or idea book for Charlotte Mason Style learning

A guide for putting together unit studies that includes notebooking and lapbooking ideas as I think we will be doing more of this in the future

What kinds of books do you consider essential to your homeschool library? Are there titles I should consider?

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How To Get To Know Your Neighbors

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1. Have several young children

2. Make sure that they are curious about everything and not shy about asking questions

3. Allow them to play in the front of the house and ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk with minimal supervision

4. Let them yell and be loud as long as they are outside

5. Encourage them to be helpful and friendly

Result: You will know all the neighbors on your block and most of the neighbors on the next several blocks as the children will have said “hi”, asked them what they were doing, offered to help with yardwork etc. You will also be on a first name basis with: the mailman, the guys reroofing the house across the street, the man flushing the sewer system for the city and others whom you are not quite sure how you met!

Also- your life will never be boring- but you already knew that because you have several small children!

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Encouraging An Interest You Don’t Share (and that makes a mess!)

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Mouse is creative in the artistic sense. She loves to make things to pretty up the house. She cares about clothes and what looks “cute”. She wants lotions and soaps that smell nice. She also loves bones,the workings of the human body and wants to be ” a doctor who works on arms and legs” when she grows up!

We are so different. She sees things and gets ideas that would never enter my mind and so many of her ideas are so messy! She moves from one idea to the next and leaves a trail of paper bits, glue sticks, hair ribbons and decorations in her wake. Her desire and need for tactile sensory input means that she not only stamps paper with her rubber stamps, but she also stamps her hands, arms and legs, and picks apart the stamp pads to experiment with using them to dye pieces of cloth, or color on papers! We went through a long time period where scissors were as likely to be used on her hair or clothes as on more appropriate materials.

So how do I encourage her to pursue these interests, while also teaching her to think before she cuts up her blanket to make a scarf? How do I enter into her joys and challenges to help her grow?

First of all I need to remember that many of the messes she makes are the result of a lack of discernment and controlling her artistic impulses. She wasn’t being naughty when she cut the hem off of a school uniform to complete her doll’s winter ensemble with a plaid scarf. She just wasn’t thinking beyond “this would look nice” to “what will happen to my dress?”

I need to teach her discernment and that won’t happen by my making rules that she won’t remember in the heat of her enthusiasm! I need to give her materials to create with, keep the rules in that area few and simple (basically create as you please with these materials and clean up after yourself) and then be prepared to appreciate her effort and her vision as she creates. I do need to enforce the “clean up” rule and sometimes there will need to be consequences for not having cleaned up, but primarily I need to be an enthusiastic supporter of her ideas and desire to create and bring beauty into her surroundings.

I also need to include her in my own efforts to bring beauty into our home. Both from an instructive perspective- teaching her what beauty looks likes and from an inclusive one- giving her the opportunity to contribute to the family by bringing beauty to us. Sometimes that is going to mean including something on the table that isn’t necessarily beautiful to the rest of us but that she has brought in an attempt to bless us. Sometimes that will mean gently instructing her in how colors work together, how to set a pretty table, or how to tidy a room (something I’m still learning). And sometimes it will mean bringing her into my own learning of how and why to do these things, my own struggles to be disciplined to clean up after myself, and being honest with her about the struggle that we can have between our desires and vision and our abilities.

It’s a tall order and there still only twenty-four hours in a day. This is my calling though: to help these children grow into who they were created to be that they might in turn fulfill their own callings.

Only grace will accomplish this.

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The Dawdles: Cleaning The Whole House

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Not long after I started using the timer and post-it note method to cure the dawdling habit, we woke up to a rainy Saturday and a house that desperately needed some help! Four children full of energy plus two grown-ups who are a little over-tired from a busy week, and a little stressed because of the level of mess does not make for a happy family.

Obviously something had to be done. S suggested cleaning the house together and I agreed. But how to keep the children from becoming discouraged because our “family time” was being spent cleaning?

Enter the post-its and timers!


This time however I didn’t want to reward with jelly beans. It seemed to me that giving children stuck in the house, extra sugar was asking for trouble! Instead I made lists that looked like this:


The first card had just a list of jobs and times as is usual. The next card however had dancing as the first “job”, then three more typical jobs. The third card also began with a fun item and so on.

The cards didn’t work out quite as I had planned but they worked alright. I had planned that everyone would dance together, but some workers were a bit slow, so that fun item turned into running laps around the downstairs (the house is laid out in a loop), and the other fun items were also pursued individually as they came up. In some ways I think that worked better. Children who were taking breaks had time to do something without a lot of input from someone else, and children who hadn’t earned a break yet were able to see what they could be doing if they hurried with their work.

A great deal of cleaning was done. Much energy was burned off and after a morning of activity everyone was ready for naps or room-time quiet activities. Most importantly it was a mostly peaceful morning together. Not quiet, for it is rarely quiet around here, but with minimal fussing from parents and children.

Not bad for a rainy day!

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The Dawdles

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When I was a girl I loved the Miss Piggle-Wiggle books. That spry old lady was so creative in her cures for laziness, not-wanting-to-go-to-bed-itis and other childhood ills! When faced with a persistent behavioral problem I occasionally ask myself, “What would Miss Piggle-Wiggle do?” and I’d like to think that our new way of handling persistent dawdling would meet her approval!

Lately we’ve been seeing dawdling during schoolwork, job time and even over things like getting into the van and buckling in. It drives me nuts and it is a bad habit but my repeated pleas and commands to “stop dawdling” weren’t helping at all.


One problem seemed to be that the children didn’t have a good sense of how long various tasks should take. Assignments and jobs that got started slowly seemed to them to last forever and all motivation was frequently lost by the end of the first job or assignment. It didn’t help that job time around here is a bit like orchestrating a four ring circus. The big two can work on their own but need me to inspect and encourage them. Bull needs to be closely supervised as he is still learning to stick to a task and Jack loves to “help” his older siblings but can take things out faster than they can put them away. I needed some way of remembering that so-and-so had started a job five minutes ago and should be nearly done, while also keeping track of everything and everyone else!

Enter the post-it note and the kitchen timer!


Actually three kitchen timers and multiple post-its!

Before job time (we try to have three sessions of jobs each day) I write down 3-5 jobs for each child from a running list in my head. Next to each job I put a time in a circle. I then put the notes on the side of the dining room bookshelf and inform the children “It’s job time!”


Each child looks at their list (someone reads Bull’s for him) asks me any questions about it, sets a timer and runs off to do the job. If the job is complete, and passes inspection by the time the timer rings, that job is considered an “In Time” job, jobs that don’t pass inspection or aren’t finished in time are “Out Of Time” jobs and have to be completed before the timer can be set for the next job.

If a child has been working hard but isn’t quite done, or has had lots of “help” from Jack I will give a couple of extra minutes and make a mental note that the child needs more practice with that job or I need to give more time when I make the assignment.

If they work hard the jobs can generally be completed in about 30 minutes. Since we have a bunch of Easter candy right now, “In Time” jobs are worth one jelly bean each, but as we run out of candy they’ll be working for the right to wear a badge proclaiming them a diligent worker or something similar.

For my most persistent dawdlers I try to make a note of what slowed them down, so I can remind them of their choices when they are upset over not having gotten as many jelly beans as they had jobs. That does happen, but so far the next job session has been exemplary in the speed at which things have been done so I think they do get the concept. Best of all job time is much more peaceful now as I have no reason to fuss or nag, but let the timer do the parenting!

I’m working on something similar for school time and will let you know how it works!

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