Friday, December 31, 2010

Fun with Ward Boys

We got to spend some time over the course of a few days this Christmas break with our friends EW and TW. It was great to see them again! Our friend Tina Cook dropped off a big batch of her typically beautiful sugar cookies and so we took them over for all the kids to decorate.

We also went sledding with them twice. Boys never seem to get tired of sledding!

Silly Christmas pictures

Here's what we get when we dress them up and try to get all 3 smiling and looking at the camera:

After about a dozen or so of the above shots we finally released the boys to freedom. The Little Sweetie, however, was happy to stay and keep posing as her Daddy snapped several more shots...

Sweet siblings!

Happy Alaskan boy

The other night when it was bitterly cold (in the teens), Mr. T bundled up and went outside and set himself about the task of shoveling snow on our deck. He shoveled it off our deck, off the railings, in paths, and (his favorite) into a "biiiiiiiiiiig mountain" (which he then rolled off over and over again). The best parts: he was right outside the door so I could watch his antics the whole time and he never once threw the shovel or any pieces of clothing (gloves hats) over the side into the darkness. He's growing up! :-)

Cold spiders

Family Christmas Program 2010

If you are viewing this on FB, you'll have to connect to my blog to view this video since FB doesn't transfer videos from my blog.

Loving Notes to Dad

Many dads get super sweet "I love you, Dad!" or "You're the best, Dad!" type notes. Not with our kids. Here are O Boy's first ever completely independent notes to Dad:

I highly recommend you click to enlarge them and see them in all their hilariousness up close.

This one says,
Dad U (you) dad a d-raf (giraffe)
(Dad, you are a giraffe). An illustration is helpfully provided.
This one says:
Dad is hbbac wl (Dad is a humpback whale!)
It is written around the edges of the page, going counter-clockwise. !!
Another illustration is provided.
That boy!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hello, Sue-Mimi

The other week when all the boys were at AWANA, the Little Sweetie and I called her great-grandma, Sue-Mimi. The Little Sweetie is now old enough that she had great fun chatting away to Sue Mimi. She was very happy to not have to share the phone with her older brothers! To "show" Sue-Mimi different things around the room she would turn the phone out and point it at whatever she was describing and say, "Wook! Sue-Mimi! Wook! (Look!)" One of her favorite things to comment on are any lights she can see which are turned off and therefore, in her opinion, "Boken!" (broken) She loves to hold the phone out and explain, "Light boken!" even though the person on the other end has no way of seeing what she sees!

At the end of her conversation she gave her Sue-Mimi (who she is named after) a good-night kiss.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas 2010

We had a wonderful, quiet Christmas again last year but were yet again plagued by sickness. This year there seemed to be a stomach bug going around that hit just about every 5 (or almost 5) year old boy we knew. And only them! No one else in our family got this stomach bug, but it hung on to our resident almost 5 year old for several days. It meant that, after waking up twice Christmas eve to clean up after O Boy, we were all ready to lay around all Christmas Day.

We had our big dinner on Christmas Eve this year because we thought O Boy was all better and we thought we would be spending Christmas Day for soup and singing at the Kandoll's. 'Twas not to be!

This year on Christmas morning I did something I'd been thinking about doing for several years, I'd just never gotten around to it. I put a baby Jesus out in a manger (picnic basket) with some notes for the kids to read before they opened presents. laid plans. O Boy was sick much of the night so he slept in very late on Christmas morning and we parents were totally exhausted when the morning arrived! So the plan didn't work as I expected. But the Little Sweetie loved playing with Baby Jesus. This is what he looked like after she appeared on the scene:

Sleeping with Baby Jesus:

These sunglasses were one of last year's Christmas presents and they're still one of her most favorite things to wear.

Mom is not ready to start opening presents...

One fun thing the boys got were some slide whistles. Mr. T of course immediately wanted to organize a parade, which he did. Thankfully O Boy was feeling up to participating. They marched up and down the house before moving on to their next presents.

Anytime a present turns out to be a book, all action stops while Dad reads the new arrival! You can see Mr. T was still enamored with his slide whistle.

Two of the favorite presents were "tumble buggies" from Sue-Mimi and Bampah (Great Grandparents). They are those jeeps that hit obstacles, flip, and keep on going. Here's the Little Sweetie trying desperately to catch one before it goes under the tree...

But she didn't catch it! You can see it zipping off camera on the left side of the picture. She decided to follow it by going under the tree after it! You can see from O Boy's expression that he was enjoying watching her attempts to catch it.

The Little Sweetie got her own crazy "chase me" toy: a Zhu Zhu pet hamster. That thing might possibly be the smartest toy we now own. It's amazing how it senses obstacles and zips around. Lots of fun for the almost 2 year old in the house to chase!

We also found a neat cake online that we made as our Happy Birthday Jesus cake. It's kind of like the gospel bracelet, with all the colors representing different symbols. It's not magnificently pretty but it was delicious, fun to make, and it was a teaching tool that was extremely exciting and fun for the kids.

The brown represents our sin.
The red represents Jesus' blood, which paid for our sins.
The white represents how we are completely forgiven and washed clean by his death on the cross.
The green represents the new life He gives us.
The yellow reminds us to look forward to when He returns to live with us in the new Heaven and new Earth.

I had fun asking O Boy what kinds of decorations he wanted on the top, from stars to a sun, to the letter J. He wanted to know how many candles we should put..."How old is Jesus?" We settled on one for each spike off the sun.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Farm Unit

Our fourth unit of the year was supposed to be all focused around a book called Picking Apples and Pumpkins. It's a photo story about a little girl and her family who go to a pumpkin patch and apple farm. It didn't get me too excited - it's lot more fun to go to a pumpkin patch than simply look at pictures of one! Plus, a lot of the activity suggestions in our curriculum just weren't doable in our living situation (no field trips to the pumpkin patch readily available up here!). So we took a bit of a detour and spent more time focusing on another book I recently had the library order called Barnyard Song. It's a really fun book to read with a simple plot and LOTS of fun animal sounds. It was much easier to recreate with pretend animals, puppets etc. Thanks again to the Petersburg Library for always providing such great resources for our town!

Instead of recreating the scenes of Barnyard Song by playacting, as we have with previous units, this one leant itself beautifully to a puppet show. Over the years my wonderful friend Deb Ernst has helped us (through Christmas presents) to build up quite a colorful cast of puppets and so we had more than enough creatures to choose from to assemble a great cast. I created a sequence for the book using clipart and taped the sequence on the back of our couch. Then as we did the puppet show, we referred back to the picture sequence to help the boys stay "on script". Of course, O Boy never failed to add several colorful details to the plot. And once, when the vet showed up to ask the farmer why his animals were sick, Mr. T (as Farmer) replied that they'd been blasted out of a volcano. I think something about a monster truck got worked into the conversation as well. I didn't take any pictures because I was usually a part of the show but it was a really great way to practice sequencing the story over and over without it getting boring!

Coming on the heels of building a castle and the Titanic, we had to come up with something to build for this unit. While the curriculum suggested everything from various parts of a farm to a kitchen to an apple orchard (!), I scaled it down to a farm stand. That farm stand came in very handy throughout the whole unit and we used it for a few different fun activities!

Here the kids are painting butcher paper so that we could make pumpkins to sell at our farm stand. This activity I actually pulled from another curriculum I sometimes use called Play and Learn. It was written by OTs (occupational therapists) and while it is weak in the pretend play/more academic areas, it has excellent fine and gross motor activities that I weave in when I can.
One of my favorite new school items is a small paint roller. It's a great tool for Mr. T to use while he is balancing his weight on one hand and painting with the other. Plus, with only one roller there are plenty of opportunities for learning to share and patiently wait your turn! I believe that's what O Boy is lecturing his sister about in this photo!
The next step in the pumpkin process I didn't take pictures of, but for several days leading up to the pumpkin building day I had them using a hand shredder to shred scrap paper to stuff inside our pumpkins. I actually tracked down a manual shredder for this very purpose. It's an excellent FM tool and the Play and Learn curriculum uses it often. It's a lot of work but the boys seem to think it's pretty fun!

Here is Mr. T stapling (nice hand strengthening work!) his pumpkin. He had to draw the pumpkin circles and then cut them out first.
"Dis my punkin!"
Adding in the stuffing:

Before we built the farm stand we had to move some of the boxes and rearrange them. I had them "cut" them down like trees. Of course O Boy turned this into an opportunity to both dress up and direct the activity. Here he is in all his safety gear (Mr. T refused to wear all the safety options O Boy offered him) and instructing Mr. T in how to cut down the tree.
Here he is explaining to me that I was going to need to stand back when he started cutting. It's always "safety first" with O Boy.
One thing we worked a lot on during this unit was spotting, or being able to tell how many dots were on each side of a die without counting them individually. One fun way we did this was a farm game. Each boy had to make a farm enclosure and then pick out which animals they wanted in their farmyards. They each rolled the die and put out however many animals matched the number they'd rolled. They then had to decide who won that round. Then everyone would shout (just like our Great-Grandpa Gotter) "COMESHEEPCOMESHEEPCOMESHEEP!" and all the animals would head back to their farmyards. Then we'd play it all over again!
Here Mr. T was letting his animals climb ON the fences!
Even the Little Sweetie had a farm! You can see the interesting developmental difference in how they used these blocks - O Boy made a very complex fence structure and Mr. T's was pretty basic.
O Boy lost this round!
One of the new "school jobs" I've made up for the Little Sweetie that's been a big recent hit are her own people puzzles. I took photos of all the most special people in her life, printed them out, covered them with contact paper and cut them into 2 or 3 simple shapes. She absolutely loves them!

Here's another one of her "school jobs" for this unit. I try to put out 5 or so different activities for her to do while the boys are doing their school jobs and then I rotate them every few weeks. When I have a free moment in between helping the boys with their jobs I'll pull one and play with it with her. I get great ideas from many places, but one of the most reliably helpful is the 1+1+1=1 blog.
This school job was actually O Boy's idea and it was a big hit! Since we were of course talking about farming he suggested we pull out one of our old favorite activities: picking pufferberries! This was something I came up with a year or so ago and the boys like to do it again every once in a while when we all remember it! We use the tweezer-like tools Mr. T's speech therapist brought us, small Easter baskets, and cotton balls. In the first step of the activity you have to "plant" the pufferberries. On this day I decided to have them do this on the stairs. At other times we've done this on boxes up and down the hall so that they have to get in the upright kneeling position to pick the berries (a trunk strengthening position). Then you simply go around and pick all the berries! Getting them off the ground and into the basket can be pretty tricky.
Each week Mr. T has to make his letter of the week out of playdoh and other materials. This is extremely challenging for him because he really can't even roll a good playdoh snake yet by himself. So usually this means that we practice rolling a snake, I re-roll the snake, and then he puts it correctly on the letter. Each week we do one of the basic shapes as well, so that we've rotated through most of the basic shapes by now a few times. This week we were obviously doing U and I didn't have any bendable "thing" handy for him to make it out of so on the spot we came up with using his hearing aid strap! Very clever, Mr. T!
One other concept we were exploring was a very beginning introduction to weights and balances. I had them use our counting bears to weigh a banana and a toy tractor. That way they learned a little bit about how to use the balance. We did some predicting, recording of results (practice writing numbers), and of course simply the counting of the bears was an important practice step for Mr. T. On this day, O Boy's favorite toy animal, Sheepy, helped out with all his school jobs. He is a farm animal after all!
Here's our fruit (farm) stand with all our produce laid out: pumpkins, squash and off camera there were a few pies. O Boy brought out our old keyboards to use as cash registers and we did a few days of playing out a store using this stand. It was a great way to talk about counting money, price tags, and the whole buying/selling process. I guess the Little Sweetie was manning the stand in this picture!
Picking pufferberries:

Our new easel, generously passed on to us by Mr. T's speech therapist in Juneau. THANKS, Heidi and family! This has been a really useful and fun addition to our home!
Here's Mr. T counting his bears after weighing his (very brown and manhandled) banana.
This was another use we found for the farm stand: a gross motor throwing activity! It worked beautifully as a stand to hold a whole line of bowling pins. Then Mr. T (or O Boy) had to use bean bags to knock each one off. Pretty tricky, especially when standing on a table! They loved doing this and it was a great hand-eye coordination activity. It got very challenging when all the pins had been knocked off except for one or two!
One of the strengths of the curriculum we're using is that they suggest a lot of sorting activities, something that can be very difficult for Mr. T. It's important for many areas of his school and therapy: speech, science, math etc. all require an ability to categorize and describe. So for this unit I pulled out a set of simple puzzles we were given by our sweet friend Maria Anderson years ago when the boys were tiny. They had to put each animal puzzle together and then sort them. I don't recall if I suggested "farm" as one of the categories or if I waited to see if they would group them that way. Here is how one of the boys grouped them (the blocks in the middle divide the two categories).
At the end of the Picking Apples and Pumpkins book one of the characters makes an apple pie. So of course there was always the suggestion hanging out there that we too could make an apple pie. For so many reasons that was incredibly overwhelming for me (I really, really don't like to make pies!). But I finally found a recipe on that purported to be written to do with kids. I trust Family Fun, so I thought, "How bad could this be?"

The boys actually had great fun dicing up all the apples. This was an excellent pacing activity because they could each work at their own speed (Mr. T chopping with wild abandon, O Boy carefully dicing his into tiny, precise pieces) while I got other steps ready. And the Little Sweetie just did her best to eat sugar and wreak havoc however she could! I am so incredibly thankful for the counterside stand that my friend Becky found at the Salvation Army that has 4 sides on it. It has saved her from many, many a fall and gets her right up next to the action, where she loves to be!

The finished product. It was so incredibly delicious I just might have to try this all again.
One other new thing we did in this unit was to make storyboards. This was something I learned about way back in my student teaching days. So I credit my supervising teacher, Rebecca Knudsen with this wonderful idea. I hope that someday I can track her down and thank her again. The final product you see here was built over many days, each thing being added step by step. They each painted their backgrounds first, adding trees, sun, crops (and a storm on Mr. T's side - the left side). Each side was unique and fun to see them create. Then we began cutting, gluing and adding different pieces of the farm setup (from the Wondertime website) each day. I found this cutting activity and tried it with the boys years ago - long before they were ready to do any cutting! But this time around they were able to do both the cutting and the arranging. Then we labeled everything and each day would run through the words, kind of like flashcards on a board. The Little Sweetie even got to do her own (which I didn't take a picture of)!