Thursday, February 26, 2015

Montessori-inspired Red Activities for Tots & Preschoolers

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Over the past few months Sunshine has watched her older siblings use some of our new Montessori materials.  She is constantly asking when it's her turn.  As the kiddos learn about the earth, continents, and countries with their flags, she always asks to join in.  Sunshine received a new book about animals around the world for Valentine's Day.  One night last week, she brought it to me, pointing to specific animals, asking if she could learn about them during learning time.  She's always trying to sneak into the learning time room to steal Safari Toob figures and landmarks.  Just last week I caught her crawling army style across the living room floor, in hopes I wouldn't see her sneaking past me at the computer, as she tried to go into the learning time room.

I've designed this unit as an intro to some of the preschool materials and activities, but made it easy enough for Sunshine to feel successful.  All activities are designed around the color red, introducing specific red Montessori materials in the preschool curriculum.  I'm quite pleased with how it turned out.

R is for Red

When I asked Sunshine what type of learning time activity she wanted on her shelves this week she told me she wanted to paint.  I'm trying out these new spill proof cups to see if they'll work.  So far so good!

Source:  This printable is part of my Red Activities for Tots & Preschoolers Printable Pack 1. For your free copy. click on the link located at the bottom of this post.

Number 1
Sunshine still doesn't recognize any of her numbers or correctly count to five, however she has shown quite the fascination in sandpaper numbers.  I'm not sure if it's because they're cards, or she likes the textures.  I thought it might be fun to introduce her to a sand tray.  I've chosen red sand because it's the color of the number one bead bar.  If nothing else, she'll practice drawing straight lines with her pointer finger, which is a great pre-writing activity.

Making Red Bead Bars

To reinforce the concept of the red bead bar, I decided to see if Sunshine could make her own.  Knowing the capabilities of her little fingers, I made sure to make the pipe cleaners long enough for her to hold on to, as she strung the bead.  She's done an amazing job with this activity.  Though she lacks finger strength and hand strength, her fine motor coordination is superb.  We continue to reinforce the idea of "one red bead" as she does the activity each day.

Europe is Red
When learning about the seven continents, using Montessori materials, Europe is red.  One might not think that corresponding a color to a continent would make much difference, but I'm here to tell you that it does. Bulldozer knew his seven continents at the age of three, because of the color recognition of each.  Maria Montessori was such a brilliant woman.  In this activity Sunshine will cover the red map of Europe with play dough.  I'm hoping this will be great fine motor work for her, helping her strengthen finger and hand muscles.

Source:  This printable is part of my Red Activities for Tots & Preschoolers Printable Pack 1. For your free copy. click on the link located at the bottom of this post.

Landmarks of Europe
Since the older kiddos have already familiarized themselves with the landmarks of Europe, I thought I'd let Sunshine use them.  I put them in a red bowl to continue the idea that Europe is red.  Sunshine will match up landmark figures with cards.

Source:  This printable is part of my Red Activities for Tots & Preschoolers Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link located at the bottom of this post.

Transferring Red Glass Beads
Sunshine loves practical life activities. This week I'm introducing a new spoon to vary up the activity.  I've chosen glass beads because they're easy to transfer.  Once again the color red is being reinforced.

For those interested in the printables shown in this post, click on the link below:

If you're looking to purchase materials used for activities in this post, here's what you need!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Renae Today: January 2015

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After months of debate with myself, and a very unsuccessful balancing act, I've decided to stop posting on my personal and private blog, Renae Today.  Once I've finished blogging about December 2014, all other posts will be written here at Every Star Is Different.  My readers can now look forward to a more intimate look at the daily grind of our lives, the ups and downs, the good and the bad, etc, as well as continued unit studies, tot activities, and more.  I'm super excited about this transition.  I feel that the purpose of Renae Today has ended.  A new phase of our lives has started!
My boys are the best of friends.  They are always together, except when they can't be.  Sometimes, when I go to brush my teeth at night, I'll peak into their room and notice that Bulldozer is in Dinomite's bed with him, cuddled together under the blankets.  When one goes to run errands with me or to a play date with a friend, and the other can't go, they always mention how they wished the other could be there with us, and that they can't wait to go home to see them.

Over the past year, they've become even closer as they've shared the same obsessions at the same time.  Bulldozer is now interested in ALL of the things that Dinomite is passionate about.  Don't get me wrong, they still have their arguments and fights, but two seconds later they're back to playing, laughing and getting into trouble together.

The picture collage above is an example of just a few moments I captured during the month of January.  I can't help but smile every time I look at them.
Sunshine enjoying her new easel!
January was a very big month for Dinomite.  He turned 8 years old.  Nothing elaborate happened on his actual birthday.  He picked the meals for the day.  He picked out his one big birthday present ahead of time.  Then he chose a special dessert.  With four kiddos, I've learned that keeping birthdays small and uneventful is definitely the way to go!  You'll notice Dinomite is in his pajamas in both pictures.  The kid loves pajamas.
The day after Dinomite's birthday was the opposite of uneventful.  It was his baptism day!  We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We believe that children are baptized at 8 years old by someone who holds the priesthood. In this case, Dinomite was baptized by his father.
Dinomite wanted the baptism to be a small intimate affair.  Little did we know that everyone he invited would attend.  Fifty people were there to be part of his special day.  He was glowing.  The program was beautiful.  Dinomite planned it himself.
Our family after the baptism.  Photography by Alexa Ferris.
After the baptism and confirmation, Dinomite wanted to invite everyone back to our home for soups, breads, and pies.  To say I was busy the few days before the big event was an understatement.  With so many RSVPs, I ended up making five large crock pots of soups, 8 loaves of bread, and 7 pies.
My new favorite picture of Princess taken at Dinomite's Baptism Celebration by Alexa Ferris.
As it turned out there were only about 20 of us back at the house.  When we walked out of the church building we noticed a layer of ice on everything.  Rain had started freezing, making travel a bit tricky.  Jason and I lived off of soup for a week, which I LOVED!  We were also able to give away some pies and soup to some of our favorite people.
Best Friends Forever-Dinomite & Bulldozer
Not only had I been preparing food all week, but I had made sure the upstairs and downstairs of our house was clean.  If all 50 people ended up here, they'd have places to go and things to do.  (Mind you I completely forget to clean the upstairs bathroom.  Go figure.)
Meet my mother and sisters.  And yes, my sisters are identical twins.  Photos taken by Alexa Ferris.
It's one of my parenting goals this year to have the kiddos participate in one social event each month, whether it be a play date or a big event like a baptism etc.  This event was the first of the year and it went so well.  Dinomite was amazing. He was social.  He was laughing and joking.  It made such a difference for him to have others come to his home to celebrate.  It's where he feels most comfortable and safe.  So many people commented on how fabulous he did that night.
Our family!  Photo taken by Alexa Ferris.

Part of me wishes I could have enjoyed the celebration more.  Preparing for a baptism was much more difficult and stressful than I thought it would be.  Thankfully I had hired a photographer to capture some special moments.  I knew I would be unable to do so, while playing hostess, and making sure all four kiddos were okay through the baptism and festivities.  The idea of a photographer was a very last minute thing.  She was unable to be at the actual baptism, until after it was over, but she did come to our home afterwards to try to sneak in a few great pictures.   I am so thankful she was willing and able to do so.

It's been a month and I still can't believe Dinomite is 8 years old.  It seems like yesterday they put him in my arms, all 5 lbs. 15 oz. and 17 1/2 inches of him.  He was so tiny.  Time passes so quickly.
Princess, Dinomite, Bulldozer, & Sunshine sledding for the first time.
Our other BIG adventure during the month of January was taking the kiddos sledding for the first time.  They had the time of their lives. The evening was definitely a family night to remember, and one of my happiest memories from this winter.  When we returned home I made hot cocoa to go with a late dinner.  Jason introduced the kiddos to Superman the Movie.  Bulldozer had given it to him for Christmas, with the intent to be able to watch it with him.  All of the kiddos loved it, Princess especially.  I do believe she has her first crush.  Go figure it's Superman!  She can't get any better than that.  Lol.

That's Renae today!

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Quest to Be My Very Best: Physical Wellness Part 1-Exercise

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It always amazes me how fast time passes.  Sometimes I wish I could make time stand still, just to catch my breathe, to sleep, or to actually be ready for the next thing coming.  If only that were possible.  Again, I come to the conclusion that all I can do is be my very best.

Over the past 8 years my body has taken a beating inside and out.  There have been surgeries.  Doctors discovered I have asthma and chronic lung damage due to being untreated for so long.  (I was too busy taking care of Bulldozer's medical issues to make a doctor's appointment for myself.)  My environmental allergies became increasingly worse, no longer manageable with a simple prescription.

The word "stress" took on a whole new meaning.  The land of nod seemed foreign to me. Over time, it seemed my entire existence was dedicated to the care of my special needs children, and others foster children we had in our home.  I would do whatever I needed to help them, because I was the one who had something to give.  I could be flexible.  I could do without sleep.  I could exercise tomorrow.  I could cancel my appointments, because their appointments were more important.

The result of my choices...  60 extra pounds and continued decreasing lung capacity.

Many are familiar with the explanation of safety procedures reviewed at the beginning of a flight on an airplane.  "If cabin pressure changes, the panels above your seat will open revealing oxygen masks.  Place the mask over your nose and mouth. Slip the elastic strap over your head and adjust the mask if necessary.  Be sure to adjust your own mask before adjusting others."  There is an important lesson to be learned from the last phrase of the warning of the explanation.  You can't help others, unless you take care of yourself first.  Last year I worked hard learning how to take care of myself.  This year I'm working hard to apply that knowledge.  I need to be my very best, not just for myself, but for them too.  The task is much harder than it sounds.

Over the summer I met with my doctors about my weight gain etc. I had my thyroid checked.  I joined a gym.  I worked with a personal trainer once a week.  She gave me some very valuable advice.  My first priority was to make sure I was getting 8 hours of sleep each night.  If I didn't, there would be no point to my diet and exercise efforts.  My second priority was to my diet.  My third priority was exercise.

Though I was eating fairly healthy and trying to exercise as much as I could, my weight loss efforts were failing because I was getting too little sleep and my life was FULL of stress.  My body couldn't respond to exercise the way it needed to.  Until Sunshine learned to sleep, any efforts I put forth would be in vain.  It was important that I recognize this, because it was something completely out of my control.

Then there was my biggest hurdle.  Myself.  I have Congenital Ectodermal Displasia.  This means that my hair doesn't grow and my finger and toe nails are formed differently than others.  At most, I've had the same amount of hair as a 1 year old toddler in my lifetime.  Growing up, many thought I had cancer or alopecia.  Mind you, I can only remember two people during the very early part of my childhood who ever teased me for being bald.  I had many friends all through school.  I was popular. I was smart.  I graduated in the top 10% of my senior class, as Class President.  And unlike all of my other girl friends, I've never once had to shave my legs.  (There are definitely perks to having no hair!)

I did not wear a wig until the age of 21, when preparing to serve a proselyting mission for my church.  I was worried that people would be frightened by my appearance when I came knocking on their door.  I did not end up serving a mission, but I continued to wear the wig.  Though I did not enjoy wearing it, it ended up becoming part of who I was.

Wearing a wig has many inconveniences.  Whether it be the wind or a roller coaster, there's always a chance that it will come off (even with clips or adhesive).  One can't just dive into a pool on a whim.  Exercising in public is difficult.  When it's hot outside, you feel like you're wearing a winter hat.  Depending on the length of the wig, even hugs can be an issue.  My decision to wear a wig has had a huge impact on my daily functioning and ability to participate in activities with my kiddos.  But one can't just go from seemingly having a full head of hair to being completely bald in public places, especially as an adult.  (All of my hair fell out after having my boys, partly due to the rubbing of wigs and partly due to hormone and chemical changes.)  If I stopped wearing a wig, it would not only affect me, but my husband, and my children.  I worried about others and how uncomfortable they might feel.

But then I started remembering something I've taught my children for a very long time.  EVERYBODY HAS SOMETHING.  Whether it be Autism Spectrum Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Cranial Facial Microsomia, Bi-Polar Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, blindness, deafness, a fake limb, a learning disability, an addiction, etc...  Some issues may be more visible than others, but no one is perfect.  If I wanted to teach my special needs children that they were lovable, amazing, and full of potential just the way they are, I needed to lead by example, and show them that I knew I was lovable, amazing and full of potential, just the way I am.  And so began the Power of Pink.

Before going swimming at a friend's home last summer, I went to a sporting goods store and purchased a bright pink swimming cap.  For the first time since my children were born, I was able to swim with them, and not just wade in the shallow end, always keeping my head above water.  I did hand stands with Dinomite under water.  I swam in the deep end with Bulldozer.  I hadn't felt so free in years and spent hours in the pool with them that day.  They had the time of their lives.
After struggling at the gym with a wig on several occasions, I wore a bright pink bandanna instead.  My husband was the one who actually went to the store and bought it for me, showing his full unwavering support.  The kiddos had a blast trying it on themselves.  The day I wore my bandanna to the gym was my last workout there, but it was my best.  The freedom that came with just being me can't be described in words.  Later, I purchased bright pink sneakers to add to the Power of Pink.

My meetings with a personal trainer and gym workouts ended because of schedule conflicts.  The only time I could go to the gym by myself was early in the morning.  Jason needs to be to work by 7 AM.  My trainer was not available in the evenings.  I'm unable to use the gym child watch due to Bulldozer and Sunshine's allergies and Princess and Sunshine's attachment issues and behaviors.  This is when I realized that if I was going to be successful at taking care of myself and improving my own physical wellness, I needed to have a plan that included my children.

It was fall by this time.  The leaves were falling.  Weather was beautiful.  I still wasn't getting enough sleep, due to Sunshine's sleep disorder.  Finding physical activities that all four kiddos could participate in was difficult, so we started walking.  I figured no matter how much sleep I received, walking was a safe low impact activity that could only be beneficial.  And it was.  I learned just how much my body needed the physical activity to reduce the stress that was causing my weight gain.  I didn't lose weight, but I was much happier.  I was less likely to become frustrated by my children's behaviors.  I had more patience with them.  I was more accepting of all of our faults.  Daily physical activity with my kiddos helps me to be my very best!  It also helped my kiddos!
The four kiddos on one of our walks in the cemetery behind our house.
Winter came with it's below zero temperatures and several feet of snow, making our daily walks impossible.  I still wasn't sleeping.  This meant still no weight loss.  Fortunately, I came up with a plan, invested in the materials needed, and the kiddos and I are having a blast.
As of January 2015, we work out together 3-4 times a  week using kid's exercise videos.  (As long as we're not sick.)  We have three favorites.  All of the kiddos can participate at their own level.  Each video shows kiddos who are advanced and those who are just struggling to become coordinated as they attempt each move.  The videos have been great for exercise, physical therapy, anxiety, and stress relief.  I highly recommend them!  We'll continue using them through the winter.

It makes me so happy that I've been able to work to do my very best, and include my kiddos in the process.  We are all benefiting, and now have a plan for every season.  They see their Mommy doing hard things, and know that if I can, they can too.  If I'm still wearing the same size clothes when the year 2015 comes to an end, that's okay, because I will know I've done my very best and chances are I'll be breathing a lot easier.

This post is part of My Quest to Be My Best Series.  To read the introductory post, click HERE!  If you've enjoyed reading today, stay tuned for Part 2:  Diet & Nutrition coming soon!
Comments and questions are always welcome!