Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Picnic With Friends

Last week, we went with my mom to visit one of my friends who's just had a baby. We walked to a playground/park area a few blocks from her house and had a little picnic.

My mom bought my friend's son, who just turned 2, a badminton set. I think Jared had the most fun with it, though. He insisted on calling it playing "tennis."

Alexa had more fun on the playground equipment and being with my mom. I was able to have a rare moment to just sit with my friend and talk for a while.

After lunch, my friend's husband brought out some sidewalk chalk  and introduced the kids to the game of hopscotch. Alexa seemed interested, until the game was cut short by a maintenance man yelling that we're not allowed to draw with chalk on the ground. Really?  Ok.  Reminds me of when I was at a playground before the kids were born and there was a playground attendant (?) and she yelled at kids for running. Seriously.

So, after playing somewhat "correctly" on the playground equipment...

...we headed to the ball field to run some bases.

Before having a bit of a melt-down from being tired, my friend's son wanted to hold Jared's hand on the way home. Isn't this picture so sweet?

Before leaving J to his nap, Jared wanted to dress up in his pirate outfit once more. Of course me, my friend and mom had to don pirate hats as well. It was a wonderful spring day. Days like this make me so grateful the kids will never be cooped up in a building when they want to run free outside.

Some Fun Things We've Been Up to the Second Week in April

It's fun to see how natural and organic math can be. As I've written in recent posts, we've had a big resurgence in board game playing recently. Hi-Ho Cherry-O is usually at the top of the list. It's amazing to think about how well they play the game compared to how they did when we first played almost a year ago. I'm not great in math at all, and I in no way want my kids to have the same math phobia that I do, so anything math-related comes entirely from them. That's why when they make statements showing they understand basic addition and subtraction (especially Alexa) using the numbers 1-10, I'm very impressed. I try to remember to incorporate silly math games in our day, now that I know how much they like it.

Steve planted grass seed around the tree in the back, so the kids usually want a turn to water, too. It's fun to watch the baby grass grow each day.

They've been loving the sandbox, again, although it looks very tiny on them now. We need to figure out how to get them more sand space this year.

Jared's been into knights and castles recently, so I asked if he'd like me to show him how to build a castle and moat. He was very excited about the idea. Here is the final product. I'm sure in just a little time he'll be building far better and more elaborate sand castles than I can.

Alexa LOVES to watch old family DVDs. Many mornings she'll pop up from bed asking, "Can I watch a family video?"  It's great because it lets us talk about the past, see family members we only get to visit once a year, and remind the kids of things they used to like. On this week, they watch part of a DVD of when they had just turned two. They were playing with rice, flour and sugar in the kitchen and were having a food fight. So, naturally, they wanted me to take out those ingredients again. Thankfully, it's warmer out now, so it was easier to clean up this food fight than the last one. (You might notice Jared's wearing that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask I made for him.)

We visited a few different playgrounds this week. At one playground, after the kids had run off to the equipment and I was settling myself under a tree, I looked up to see Jared dangling from one of the upper rungs of a ladder. I raced over there, but he dropped to the ground before I could catch him. He just started laughing and saying he wanted to do it again. I really have to just relax about him doing this physical stuff and realize he is more capable than I give him credit for. Still, he is only just going to be 4.....

Later that same day, the kids had fun throwing crackers to the ducks. This time we saw some frogs and turtles in the pond, too. The kids crossed to the other side of the pond and picked me a bouquet of dandelions.

We've had our fair share share of using scizzors, too. The kids will get on kicks of wanting to practice certain skills, like cutting, and will just still there for an hour doing it over and over again. And then, they'll put in down, sometimes for a month, before wanting to do it again. But, even though they hadn't been steadily "practicing" the skill every day, the next time they try to cut again, they have made huge progress from the last time. It's so important to be intimately in tune with how your child learns and respect their unique style.

Junior Farmers Program at The Center in Palos Park

We are officially Junior Farmers as of April 13th. The program, put on by The Center in Palos Park, has really been a great experience so far, even though we've only had two sessions. The first day, Ms. Kay introduced the kids to all the spring baby animals.

We headed first to the outside coop where the baby chicks are kept. All children who wanted to held a baby chick to put in the coop. 

Then we went to look at the new baby bunnies that had just been born a week ago. Their eyes were still closed and they had very little fur so we couldn't handle them yet, but they were sure cute to see!  They took out one of the older rabbits, and the kids sat in a circle to pet her and watch her eat grass.

Once inside the barn, we stopped at the goats' stall. Alexa loved brushing the goats. Jared, and quite a few other boys, loved squashing up the goat poop with their shoes. Boys!

We then checked out the calves....

... and then each child was given a duckling to carry out to the pen where they are kept outside.

I think one of the most exciting things the kids did besides holding the baby animals was throwing grass into the duck's water pool. I think within ten minutes those kids would have had the kiddie pool overflowing with grass if Ms. Kay hadn't stopped them.

We look forward to milking the goats, and taking a hay and pony ride in the weeks to come.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Center -Sheep Shearing Demonstration

Last weekend on the 11th, we went for the first time to The Center in Palos Park. One of its main draws is its farm. The farm is open on the weekends for family tours. We are going to start a Junior Farmers program here in two days (about which I will write a separate post), but they had a sheep shearing demonstration here on Sunday, so I was so glad it worked out for us all to come.

Before the shearing started, we were able to start looking at some of the animals. Many of the baby lambs were out on the field for the kids to pet.

We stopped by the baby chicks and ducklings. The kids, of course, were thrilled to hold them with a little help.

Then the demonstration started. They go all out by having a bagpipe procession lead the way from the barn to the yard where the sheep are to be shorn, with children leading the sheep behind the musicians.

There was a pretty good turn-out and we didn't get the greatest place to stand, so the pictures I took weren't the greatest. Hopefully, it give you a little idea of what it was like.

After discussing the history of sheep shearing, the man proceeded to shear one sheep using an electric razor. After he was done, another man demonstrated the traditional hand shearing, but Jared and Alexa had more of this in mind.....

so that's what we did. Then we went on a tour of the rest of the barn and the animals. First stop - the horses.

....then chickens...

...and pigs...

.... then brushing the goats...

...and finally the calves.

There was an awesome bridge that ran across the busy street near the farm. So, we HAD to run across it once before we left.

What We've Been Up to the First Week of April

We're planning a trip to Greece next year, and I've been working on learning to speak Greek using Rosetta Stone. Many times Alexa will hop up on my lap and do the program with me. I even set up a different account with her name that she can use if she wants to. She has a fun time asking me to teach her new Greek words. Jared, as of right now, is not very interested in learning to speak a different language, although he does like watching the French Language Lyrics DVD, a program that teaches French to kids through songs.

Alexa is enthralled with the headset/mic that came with the Rosetta Stone program, so she asks to wear it when she plays computer games on, even though she has no need to record anything. I really think she's trying to be like me in some way. By the way, she'd probably be on the computer all day long, literally, if I'd let her. It's hard to know how much to regulate that stuff for her. She's very young, and although we are a self-directed family, I do believe in putting limits on TV and computer usage. I think I'll have to write a separate post about that some time.

Alexa surprised me with asking to mop the floor a few weeks ago. She loved to do this more a few years ago, but the interest seems to have been revived again.

Jared's always been a big puzzle guy, although lately it's not been the obsession it used to be. But lately, Alexa has been asking to do puzzles. Up until about six months ago, she has never, I mean NEVER done a puzzle before. She would adamantly refuse. Now she specifically requests for us to do puzzles with her. She especially likes the 48-piece floor puzzles that have dinosaurs (something both kids are really into lately). I should mention, if you have a kid who loves dinosaurs, rent the DVD of Jurassic Park III. On it they have a special feature that goes through about twenty or so dinosaurs. You see a computer graphic that goes all the ways around the dinosaur, plus you learn many new facts about the dinos, too.

Alexa has also renewed her interest in writing letters these past few weeks. She started by asking me how to spell things a few months ago. Occasionally, I'll also write the word down so she'll see how it looks on paper. It's funny because she has been able to read these words for a few years now, but I guess the process of spelling and reading is a lot different. I think it's because she really is a whole word learner with respect to reading, and now she's developing a greater interest in phonics.

Anyways, it gets really time-consuming to sit next to her and write word after word and help her write the letters. She will do this for hours with me if I  agree to it, and sometimes I do. Then I had the idea of printing letter worksheets from the Internet for her to trace. I took a chance that she'd like it, and it turns out she LOVED it. She sat there for an hour and a half just tracing different letters. Then she popped up off the chair and said, "I'm all done, now."  I should think so.

The day Alexa traced all the letters, Jared and I had a great game of pirates. The Playmobile pirate ship was one of the best presents we've ever gotten Jared. He loves small figures, and is developing a good collection already. We put them on the ship and then they sail somewhere.

Here they landed on an "island," (Daddy's guitar case). I can't wait to look back at this blog post when he's sixteen and see what he's doing then. Its hard not to think he'll be doing something that involves detailed work.

Later that same day, I gave Alexa the tape recorder I used to use when I was a freelance reporter for several newspapers. Both kids love to make up stories, and I thought she might like recording her own stories and playing them back. I spent hours and hours, for many years, doing this type of thing when I was younger. Well, she loved this, too. I've really been good at guessing what things to introduce to them that they'd like. I'm sure you know what it's like to bring an activity, book or resource to your kids and have them not be that interested. It usually doesn't bother me if they are not into what I am showing them, but after several times of not having them interested, I start to get discouraged and think I really don't know my kids that well after all. Silly, but true.

A few weeks ago, on Saturday morning, I happened to be flipping through the channels on TV and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle show was on. Thirty seconds into the show and Jared was hooked. He wanted to look just like them. I swear, this kid should own a costume shop when he's older. He lives to dress up. I'd have thought my daughter would be the one who would like dressing up more.

So, Jared says he wants a TMNT costume, and I ask if he wanted me to make him one. He gets SO excited about this idea that he even turns down a chance to drive with Steve to pick up the pizza. I make a mask out of green flannel and a rubber band, and then I cut out a shell out of cardboard and made arm holes with ribbons. I was pretty happy with the results since I am not at all talented in artistic or crafty things. Now, he alternates between this costume and his Batman cape (which is really a red vest in which he puts his head through on of the arm holes). He even wore the mask the whole time we went to the library.