Friday, August 31, 2012

All the world's a stage!

One of my favorite things to do with my sisters growing up was to put on performances for our family. Sometimes we put on plays, sometimes we sang, sometimes we danced, oftentimes we sang and danced (this was in the early days of MTV, afterall!). It's something that I have been suggesting to my kids for years when they are wanting something to do, but they have only recently actually liked the idea.

We've spent every day this week filming performances. The best was when the kids decided to perform "Little Red Riding Hood." They decided on roles, gathered up their costumes, and created multiple sets. The kids set up a seating area in the living room and I rigged up a stage with a curtain in the entryway (the one advantage to having a step-down/sunken living room!). We didn't rehearse at all, and I didn't tell the kids what to say when we performed. It was so satisfying to see them act out the familiar story, assigning voices to their characters. My Squeak is definitely a performer. Pixie enjoys performing but gets a little shy in the limelight (when speaking, anyway). I love to see them and wonder what they will be like as teenagers and adults. I have hopes for them based on their personalities (I would love to see my Pixie a ballerina, and hope Squeak will be a musical theater guy), but I am excited to see if they will turn out how I think they might, or if they will go in a totally different direction. Anyway, I've loved seeing their creativity in this totally new realm. They have the best ideas and we've been having so much with this!

Next Squeak tells me he wants to perform "Peter Pan," but I'm trying to think of some good, familiar stories/fairy tales that could be acted out by just the two of them - it's hard! Got any suggestions?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday: introduction

One of the (many!) things that I haven't been very good at and really, really want to do better is teaching my kids how to serve others. I admit that often in my life since having kids I have felt really overwhelmed and stretched to my limits (emotionally, physically, and even financially), feeling like I don't have anything left of myself to give beyond the walls of my home. Because of that I haven't really been looking for opportunities to serve others, and I haven't helped my kids do so, either. I want to change that.

I truly believe that those who have been blessed with more in this life, whether it is more money, more happiness, more time, more support, more family, more friends, more health, or more anything, have a responsibility to help those who have not. I have been blessed with a lot in my life and I want to share my blessings. I want to teach my kids to share their blessings, and to realize that they are very blessed. I also want to teach my kids that serving others will help you love others, and that even when you feel like you have nothing to give there is always something you can do. I want to be a more compassionate and thoughtful person, and I want my children to learn how to be compassionate and thoughtful as well.

Last week we were able to have an awesome opportunity to help our community. We have this amazing non-profit organization here that works with farmers to provide fresh produce to the local food bank. Every so often a farmer will donate a portion of his crops to this organization, and volunteers from the community help harvest the produce. Half of what is harvested is donated to the local food bank, and volunteers get to take home the other half. It is a wonderful way to help those who can't afford the delicious offerings of our area, and it doesn't even really feel like helping since we get a portion of said delicious food! We've been involved with the organization since we moved here last summer, and it's been a great introduction to service for our kids. It is a very real way for them to see how they are helping people, since they physically collect the fruit themselves and then personally divide up half of what they pick and donate it. Last week we were able to pick blueberries to donate, and I was surprised to see how eager my kids were to share what they picked. I was worried they might be upset when they saw half of our efforts given away, but they were so happy to be able to help people who couldn't afford to buy fresh blueberries. It was watching this that made me realize they are eager to help and I need to do a better job at giving them opportunities to serve.

And so I am instituting "Thoughtful Thursday" here in the Learn at Home home. I want us all to be more attuned to ways we can help others. Even though my kids are small, and I am stretched thin, and we don't have a lot of money to spare, we can still make a difference.

Since this is something that I admittedly am not that great at, I need your help! What are some of the ways you teach your children to serve? What are some simple ways small children can help others in their family, their school, and their community? And I need LOTS of ideas, since my goal is to do something once a week!!!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On schooling

Hello, hello! I've been meaning to write all about the fun we've been having, but I've been too busy having fun! ;)  I've had this post started and have kept coming back to it for days, but then it just gets abandoned all over again...

(not my picture or our tree frog. Image source:

Today we found two tree frogs in our hot tub (what the heck?!). We caught one and made a cozy little terrarium for it. The kids learned all about what frogs need (moisture, hiding places, greenery, and food).and what they eat (bugs of all kinds: ants, spiders, beetles, crickets, even slugs!), and then helped collect the needed items. They were so adorable and excited and spent the evening watching the cute little frog. We'll let it go tomorrow but until then we're all having fun with it. :)

My kids get so excited about science and life, and it reminds me of myself as a child...but then I get sad because I think about how formal schooling totally ruined that for me. As a child, science was my favorite thing ever. I loved learning about life, biology, ecology, geology... As I got older, my science classes in school took all the fun out of science. By college I absolutely hated it, so much that I went to class as little as necessary to still get a  B-C. I hate science now. I still love living creatures but anything else "science-y" just makes me tune out completely.

As I prepare to send my first baby off to Kindergarten in 2 short weeks, I can't help but wonder (and fear for) how his school career will be. I am scared of school squelching his desire and excitement to learn. I fear for how his self-esteem will someday be tied into how well he performs on a test. I am terrified of the influence other children will have on him, and how he will be at the mercy of the kindness of a bunch of still-learning and growing immature peers.

In short, I am freaking out.

Even with all of that, for now, I know that public schooling is the right thing for him. As much as I would love to keep him away from a school setting with kids who might be mean, I know that he wouldn't thrive here with me, at least not at this time in his life. He needs that structured setting, with a teacher who expects him to sit quietly and listen for some of the day, and with other kids with whom to socialize and from whom to learn social cues.

He is beyond excited about going to school. And so I am excited for him. I will cry after I drop him off on the first day (and likely beyond the first day), but I will try to be hopeful for his future: I hope that he will love school. I hope that he will feel confident and brave and secure in who he is and what he believes. I hope he will have good teachers who will help nurture his love and zeal for life and learning. I hope he will blossom.

What tips do any of you experienced parents have for me about sending my baby off to school for the first time? Do you have any fun traditions at the start of a new school year? How do you stay connected with your child as slowly you loosen your grasp on him?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Museums at home

One of our favorite ways to beat boredom around here is by playing "nature center" (or, "feeling museum," as the littles call it). First we spend some time collecting specimens from the yard, and then the kids get them all displayed in the dining room. Squeak makes and posts signs. Then both Squeak and Pixie invite all the neighbors over for a personal tour (sometimes they even charge admission!). Luckily we live in a great neighborhood with very polite and obliging neighbors. :)

I love this activity for many reasons. I love that it gets us outside. When these pictures were taken, it was a grey and rainy northwestern spring day. We were all bored and cabin-feverish. As soon as the rain eased up, we headed outside. Normally if I tell the kids to go play outside when it is raining, I am met with some resistance (even though we do try to go out and play regularly even during our long wet season, and my kids are used to that and enjoy it for the most part). But with the exciting purpose of collecting specimens for our nature center, my kids raced out the door!

I also love that it encourages us to explore and appreciate nature. Squeak and Pixie often play outside in their treehouse, on my hammock, or on their swing, and they often run around playing some make-believe game or another, but they don't take the chance to really discover nature very often. When we set up a museum, the kids really search for all the beautiful and amazing things found right in our own backyard. They use all of their senses as they decide what to display. They take their time and really see and touch the hidden things they typically overlook.

I love the creativity they use as they set up their displays. The first time we did this, all on their own, they gathered all my glass containers and turned them upside down over their display objects. Some of the items were reserved for the "feeling chest," where visitors could have a hands-on experience.

They filled vases with water for the flowers and plants, added mud, leaves, and moisture to the slug's terrarium, and brought in some moss full of tiny bugs to feed the ladybug in her jar. They set up an "employees only" area and roped off the hallway to the bathrooms, explaining that you needed to ask a worker before you could go to the bathroom.

Squeak decided on his own that there should be a fee to enter the museum (one quarter OR penny, take your pick!), but that once inside the museum, all the exhibits would be free.

 I gave them just the teensiest suggestion of something to do one boring afternoon, and they totally ran with it and made it their own. Awesome!

So, readers... Now that I've shared one of mine, I wanna know, what's your favorite way to beat boredom with your little learners?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Felt Food

When I taught Head Start, one of the most popular areas in the classroom was the “dramatic play” center. It was typically set up as a home, with a fridge, sink, stove/oven, couch, chair, table, ironing board, high chair, cradle, stroller, and a rack full of dress-ups. When I had my own kids, I knew I wanted to have something similar. We got a plastic kitchen for $5 at Saver’s when Squeak was just a baby, but he hardly played with it at all! I was so disappointed. When Pixie was born, my determination to make the toy kitchen enticing was renewed! I scoured craigslist for a wooden kitchen, obsessively checked local thrift stores and garage sales, and even browsed DIY plans for building one. The catch was that I wasn’t willing to spend very much money on it, since we already had a perfectly usable toy kitchen. Even still, I felt sure that if I could just find a more realistic looking kitchen, my kids would play with it, which I so wanted! Finally, after 2 years of searching, I found just what I was looking for, just in time for Pixie’s 2nd birthday. A small, simple, sturdy wooden toy kitchen (sink, stove/oven, shelves). And only $10! Perfect! I brought it home, and my kids seemed interested…but only for a few weeks. They soon abandoned it. I wasn’t ready to give up on it yet, though. Maybe it’s because I remember longing for a toy kitchen as a small girl, and I vividly remember the year I finally got one (a pink and white wooden Minnie Mouse one, no less!). It was my most-loved toy. I wanted that for my kids! So I decided to make some fun, realistic food for them to play with in their toy kitchen. I thought it might make them more interested in the kitchen, but I also was eager to trash the cheapo (and toxic) plastic food we had… I ventured to the craft store and picked up a variety of felt colors, pulled out my trusty sewing machine, and in just a few hours whipped up the cutest felt play food!

The best thing about making felt food is that it is really easily-customizable, and you don’t really need a pattern. All it takes is a little imagination and some basic sewing know-how. It is also a quick project, so if you’re like me and enjoy seeing results right away, this is the project for you! :)  I made two pieces of sandwich bread (the hardest part), one “crunchy” taco, two fried eggs, four lettuce leaves, two tomato slices, two slices of cheese, two deli meat slices, one hamburger bun, and one hamburger patty all in just a couple hours. Since making these, I’ve also whipped up a hot dog, a chicken leg drumstick, another two fried eggs, three strips of bacon, and a t-bone steak. My kids absolutely love playing with these, especially the pieces they can assemble themselves. I have plans to make many more items of food in the future.
And I’m happy to report that the toy kitchen has become a centerpiece in the children’s play. They often make meals on it, and when they aren’t using it as a kitchen, they are putting their babies to bed (in the oven!), or driving their trucks into the garage (again, the oven), or using it as a home for their Playmobils. I love solid, versatile toys that the kids can use in a variety of ways, and I love seeing them use their imaginations to come up with new ways to play with old toys! :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Welcome to Learn at Home Parenting! By way of introduction, my name is Catherine. I have two beautiful, sweet, intelligent children. My son Squeak is almost 6 and is preparing to enter kindergarten! He loves to learn new things, use his imagination, and make new friends. My daughter Pixie is 3 and completely idolizes her older brother. She loves to sing and dance, play outside, and get dirty. I have been married 10 years to my college sweetheart and we live in the gorgeous pacific northwest. My husband is an education administrator and is also currently working to attain his doctorate degree. I have a bachelor of science in sociology and formerly taught Head Start and preschool in the public school system. I now stay home with my babies and try to make our home their classroom. I firmly believe that children learn best through play, and I’m hoping this blog will be a way to share my ideas for encouraging learning through play at home. I hope you will join me and share your ideas with me, as well!