"…And she smiles at the future." ~Proverbs 31:25

Archive for the ‘Organizing’ Category

Wise guys and Sharpies

I had no choice, really.

I learned the hard way that just because I planned meals and then purchased all the ingredients to prepare them, it didn’t necessarily mean those ingredients would still be on hand when it came time to cook.

So really, I had to do it.

I made the black Sharpie a very dear friend of mine. I began writing on the bag of chocolate chips or the can of French-fried onions or whatever I thought might be eaten before I could use it. I would come home from the grocery store and immediately scrawl a big, black, “Recipe: Do not eat!” on each item in question, and it worked! From then on, I could go to the kitchen to cook and actually find the ingredients I needed there, and it was….nice.

That’s when I realized (not for the first time!) that there was a wise guy in the house.

My first clue? I went to the panty and found this:

Alright, people. Go ahead and make fun all you want. But I am not giving up my Sharpie. (I’m just hiding it from YOU.)

Thanks for stopping by!

The haunting question

I’ve had it set as the cover of one of my Pinterest boards for some time now. The question still haunts me. But I guess sometimes it’s good to be haunted by something that really needs to sink in. Have you seen this?

Wow. Wow.

Honestly, I don’t even want to think about the answer to that question.

I decided last night during Bible class that my personal prayer life stinks. My prayers have become repetitive and selfish. I am in need of a major overhaul in this department.

So, this morning I got up and made myself a little book. I used a spiral index card booklet–the perfect size to fit in my purse and travel around with me.

No longer will I tell you that I’ll pray for you and then forget to do it…

I filled it with general categories that I need to be in prayer about, then listed within each category lots of people and situations that I need to remember to pray for continually. (YOU may even be on my list!)

My first category? Thanksgiving! Just making a list of all I’m thankful for was such a positive way to start the day!

So, how would you answer the big question above?

(Yeah, me, too.)

There is so much to be thankful for. Want to overhaul with me? 🙂

Thanks for stopping by!

I resolve

Happy New Year!

I love new beginnings. Although I often feel I’m failing in a variety of areas, the coming of each new year brings a certain optimism that goes along with starting over. For me, a fresh start means new energy, new hope, and renewed zeal.

And while I realize that I, like most people, might be breaking my resolutions by February, I do think the start of a new calendar year is a great time to sit down and evaluate where we are, set goals for where we want to be, and make a plan for how to achieve those goals.

We usually spend time as a family on New Year’s Day, talking about our goals for the coming year. Each of us sets a personal goal in each of several categories: spiritual life, family relationships, and time management (all); school (kids and me); finances (parents); rooms (kids); and any other areas we come up with that we want to work on. We talk about them together. We write them down. We pray about them.

I love Philippians 3:13-14. “…but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Are you excited about a new year and the changes it could bring? Do you make New Year’s resolutions for yourself?  I would be so happy if you’d share one or more of them here. I’ll reveal one of mine to get things started:

Every week, I want to sit down with the kids and write thank you notes. Even if we just write one each, I think it will make us more aware of our blessings and help us show our gratitude to those who have made our lives richer in some way.

Our first note will be to the friends who hosted us on New Year's Eve.

Please chime in with your thoughts in the comments below. I wish each of you a year in which you are able to recognize God’s blessings in your life, and smile about them.

Thanks for stopping by!

The bonus post (Tiny Tots Week, Day 6)

Just when you thought we’d covered everything you could possibly want to know (and then some) about play-teaching toddlers and preschoolers, here’s one more “bonus” follow-up entry with a few more ideas on some of the subjects we covered in the past week…

More thoughts on tot school fun: (See the original post here.)

In answer to the logistical question of how and when we do tot school, I have to tell you honestly that it’s different every day. Normally, I try to do some fun activities with Remington early in the day, while she’s happy and interested. But sometimes circumstances dictate that other things have to come first.

Often we do the activities with her strapped into a booster chair, mainly because it seems to help her maintain focus on what we’re doing and it keeps our supplies from getting strewn all over the house. But other times we do tot school outside, or on the floor, or in some other random place, and occasionally we skip the PLANNED activities all together. (She doesn’t often let me get away with that, though!)

But even on the days you don’t sit down to a concentrated time of learning, remember that your child is learning all day as you interact and play with him! Don’t restrict tot school to certain times and places, and don’t restrict it to only your own ideas. I would certainly never have planned to have Remi measure Addy’s knitting needles, but there was a ruler sitting around, and her two-year-old curiosity just got the best of her…

(By the way, it was “a million.”)

Besides our sit-down times, we do tot school in the car (listening to CDs and talking about everything we pass), in line at the grocery store (looking for shapes and colors), before naps (reading books together), while fixing meals in the kitchen (counting forks and napkins, measuring, and pouring), during family devotionals and while lying in bed at night (listening to Bible stories), and so on. For a toddler, life is all about learning. The focused activities are special and fun, but they’re the extras.

Here’s an example of “spontaneous tot school:”

Yesterday was Saturday. I didn’t have a single formal activity planned for my toddler—we were just going to hang out. While walking around outside, she became intrigued by the colorful fall leaves on the ground. She started collecting them, and as she did so we examined each one and talked about the different colors and about why leaves fall from the trees.

We took them inside and ironed them between two sheets of wax paper to make a fun little autumn place mat for her spot at the table. She totally got into the ironing part!

We counted each leaf as she put it on, and she made them into families (which is why you’ll notice some of the leaves are stacked…Those are the mamas and daddies holding their babies.)

She spelled her name for me while I helped her cut the letters out using my Cricut.  (I put the letters on the wax paper so it would actually spell Remi, but she did all the rest, and I left everything just the way she put it, which is why the hearts are upside down and most of the leaves are turned over backwards. The colors were so vivid on the front sides…but this was her masterpiece!)

No planned activity. Plenty of learning fun. Oh, and as usual, she wanted to take a picture of me, too. I think I’m raising a little photographer! (But she has some practicing to do…)

Photo by Remington

More thoughts on doing tot school on a shoestring: (See the original post here.)

Please remember that my little toddler is our fourth child, so I’ve been collecting fun resources for quite a while! And one thing I’ve always done is to buy ahead. That means that if I find a great resource at a great price, I’ll pick it up now to have on hand when we need it. (Think of it like stocking up on groceries when they’re on sale or you have a good coupon.)  Here are a couple of personal examples from this past week:

I loved these colorful wooden shape puzzles with numbered pieces, but I knew they’d be a little advanced for my two-year-old. (This was confirmed after purchase!)

But, I also knew that they’d be great to have during her preschool years, and that they probably won’t be available for $2.50 each in the Target Dollar Spot by the time she’s ready for them. So now, they’re ready for HER.

I found a whole set of these telling-the-time puzzle cards at a thrift store for fifty cents:

I have no desire to teach Remi how to tell time right now, or any time soon. She’s only two!  But these cards are super cute and will be great when we’re ready for them…and she’ll probably still play with them now, just matching the pieces that fit together…and did you hear me say they were FIFTY CENTS?!?

Speaking of thrift stores…Unless you are just rolling in money or don’t have anything else to spend it on, don’t be above buying second hand. My husband will tell you that I go a little crazy cleaning things I’ve bought used, but once that’s done we have all kinds of fun resources at incredible savings.

For example, Amazon sells this product (called Max Discovers Shapes & Colors) for $13.99. I found mine at the same thrift store where I bought the time puzzle cards. I paid fifty cents.

The instructions were missing. But I can tell you right now that we are going to be matching shapes and colors, copying patterns, extending patterns, and probably lots more with this set.

I found this Imaginarium art kit at a yard sale yesterday, also for fifty cents. Everything is in the box, including full bottles of paint!

Just remember to keep your eyes open wherever you are, always being on the lookout for fun, inexpensive ways to play and learn with your little one. I found these last week at Dollar Tree (for a buck) and immediately thought of tons of ways to use them in our tot school!

One addition to my favorite toddler resources:  (See the original post here.)

Since the original post was monstrously long, I waited to share this last suggestion with you here. One of my very favorite and most budget-friendly resources for teaching toddlers is…the internet! There is an unbelievable amount of free inspiration online. I use the internet for ideas and to download free printables, which I can tailor to our specific needs. For example, after our recent family camping trip, I printed lots of fun camping-themed activities for Remi to have fun with in tot school. Here are just a few of the ones we did that week:

"T is for tent" Do-a-Dot paint marker page

Matchng camping supplies

Arranging lanterns and canteens by size

Matching camping items (like sleeping bag and campfire) to their shadows

The activities were more meaningful to her because of what she’d just experienced.  Whether you are going to the zoo, the farm, the circus, or Grandma’s house, internet resources can help you make your tot school relevant to your situation. I got the downloads for the activities above here and here.

One final thought on tot school organization: (See the original post here.)

After a time of trying to keep up with lots of little zipper baggies full of pieces from cute activities I’d printed from the internet, I finally came up with an EASY way to store them where I could see them, get to them, and put them away again easily. I took a 3-ring binder, added page protectors, and inserted each set into its own sleeve. I can easily flip through and find what I want this way, and NO MORE WANDERING PIECES! Yea!

The activity showing is from a now-defunct website (or I'd give credit).

Well, this is officially the final post of Tiny Tots Week. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and gotten some helpful ideas.

By the way, it THRILLED me to hear from some of you who have already tried out some activities, or have been inspired to think of your own. If you’ve done either, I’d LOVE to hear about it!

Thanks for stopping by.

Tot School organization (Tiny Tots Week, Day 4)

Tiny Tots Week continues! Now that you’ve gotten an idea of the fun you can experience doing Tot School, as well as how you can enjoy it on the cheap, let’s look at some ways to keep all the fun organized. I’ll share two big things today: How I organize my supplies and how I organize my plans. These are the things that work for me, although I’m continually tweaking to make things better. As always, I hope you’ll share your own ideas in the comments below.

1. Organizing the stuff

First off, I try to keep as many of our tot school resources as possible together in one place. This makes it so much easier to actually sit down and do the activities. I use a set of wire cubes (purchased from Target) and a set of plastic shelves (picked up from a yard sale) to corral our tot school goodies. Both are set up in our school room near the bigger kids’ learning materials.

I keep the things that have lots of pieces (like pompoms, cotton swabs, and dry pasta) in baskets on the higher cubes, just so they don’t end up all over the floor. Stickers go here, too…for obvious reasons.

On the lower cubes and shelves, I keep the items it wouldn’t kill me for her to get into, like her chalkboard, stacking cubes, and so on…

…as well as floor puzzles, book & tape sets, Little People toys, magnetic sets, and lift-the-flap books.

By the way, that package to the left of the shelves in the above picture contains a big foam floor puzzle. Here’s what it looks like when it’s done, Remi style.  (And yes, she was wearing a Pull-Up when I took this picture…really…I promise!)

Next to the cube tower is another set of cubes (on floor level) which contain the items I want my toddler to have free access to, like blocks and sturdier toys. (The lidded tubs contain multiple-piece toys, but since she can’t open the snap-on lids, we’re safe…for now.)

In addition to these items, I have quite a few supplies stashed away on a couple of bookshelves tucked back in the schoolroom closet. These are kept behind closed doors, either because they are things that she can only use with me (like scissors, crayons, and Play-Doh) or because they present a choking hazard (like beads, marbles, and games with tiny pieces).

(Granted, some of these aren’t really dangerous; I just got tired of having them as floor decorations…)

You may have noticed one of my main principles for organizing tot school (or just about anything else) is this: Label everything! Unless it is 1) in a see-through container, or 2) in its original container with a descriptive label clearly showing from its position on my shelves, it gets a label. Even a lot of my clear containers are labeled, just because I have multiple storage pieces that are similar and this makes it easier to quickly identify what’s inside each.

By the way, those blocks in the top container aren’t wood. They’re foam! And I love them more than I can say. They’re quiet (nice when the tower falls) and they’re soft (nice when she’s happily hurling them across the room), and I found the whole lot at a garage sale for exactly two bucks. {happy dance} If you can find some, buy them. Today.

2. Organizing myself/my plans

So, there’s a glimpse into how I contain all the little goodies we play with in our tot school. But, I’ve learned that the more fun stuff you assemble, the easier it is to forget 1) what you have to choose from and 2) what you haven’t played with for a while. Here’s the system I came up with to make sure I’m providing my little one with a variety of different experiences which address different areas of growth and learning.

I started with a plastic file box (labeled, of course!) so I’d have a place to keep all my plans and ideas together, even if the supplies they use are on different shelves or in different rooms. (Like the kitchen, remember?)

I then made a card for each type of activity I want my toddler to be able to do. (My cards are 4 x 6, just because that’s what I already had on hand.) Most of the time, I just make a note of the supplies needed for the activity, and the plan is obvious. Here’s an example from one of the activities I showed you in Tuesday’s post:

If there’s a chance I won’t remember what I’m planning to do with the supplies by the time we get to the activity, I make some additional notes or sketches to jog my memory.

Finally, I made a set of dividers with the different categories represented by the various activities I’d planned.

Obviously, you could skip this step, and if you’re just starting out, maybe that would be best. I just found that it made it much easier for me to rotate through different kinds of activities if I divided them this way. While I don’t really want our tot school to be a structured endeavor, I also don’t want to get into a rut of working puzzles every day but never focusing on my toddler’s motor skills, or building with blocks every day without ever practicing visual discrimination. And it probably doesn’t even matter, as long as she’s playing... I just want to be well rounded in my efforts and I know my own tendencies. Some people have organized minds…I don’t. So, I rely on external organization (i.e. lists, card files, etc.) to keep me on track. Go with whatever you own personality dictates.

If you do decide to divide the activities this way, I suggest labeling each card with its related category (See the top line in my examples, above) to make it quick and simple to re-file the card when you’re finished with it. (If you have a question about what’s included in any of my categories, let me know in the comments and I’ll explain and/or give examples to clarify.)

Once you have your supplies and your ideas organized, it is so simple to sit down and enjoy fun learning activities with your child whenever the mood strikes either of you!  Here’s how I do it:

1. Grab a card from the file box (from the next category, OR whatever category we feel like enjoying)

2. Grab from our stash whatever supplies are listed on the card

3. Find a good place to “work” (Read: PLAY)

4. Have fun together—learning, making memories, and probably making a mess along the way, too

5. Stop while she’s still having fun, so she’ll look forward to next time

6. Re-file the card in the BACK of whatever category I took it from (if I didn’t do this right away), and put away the supplies for another day

I should tell you here that if she is really loving a certain activity, we may do the same thing for several days in a row before retiring it to the back of the section. We are NOT slaves to this system!

NOTE: Don’t forget to take some pictures during some of your activities together. Your tiny tot is growing up too fast, and you’ll always want to remember how much fun this time together was for both of you! Get a good shot or two, then put your camera away and just be in the moment with your little sweetie.

I hope you’re enjoying Tiny Tots Week, and that you’ll jump in and share your own great ideas with us in the comments section below. Tomorrow I hope to show you some of my very favorite resources and my own toddler’s all-time favorite activities. In case you missed any of the other posts in this series, here’s the rundown:

Monday: Helping our wee helpers

Tuesday: Tot School fun

Wednesday:  Tot School on a shoestring

Thursday: Tot School organization

Friday: My favorite toddler resources

And, see the bonus post here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Helping our wee helpers (Tiny Tots Week, Day 1)

I often lament the fact that children have the strongest desire to help when they are least able to actually be helpful (read: toddlers)…and then, when they are old enough to be capable of truly helping out, that desire has all but vanished. (I think this is especially noticeable in a household containing both toddler and teenagers.) Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to make it easier for our toddler to “help” out around the house, and thought I’d share a couple of those ideas with you here.

For example, it seems all little ones have that burning desire to help water…well, everything.

But water is heavy, watering cans are unwieldy for small hands, and most of the water ends up on everything but the plants.

My solution? Use two pitchers instead.

I fill one completely full of water for me to hold, and we start with hers empty. Before she waters each plant, I pour just a little water into her pitcher from mine so she can then pour it on without flooding the poor plant or dropping the full pitcher. I am constantly refilling, but she is having a blast and some of the water’s even going where it’s supposed to! (And she loves the refilling as much as the watering.)

By the way…Yes, I am aware that she’s wearing a bike helmet and a nightgown. She’d gone out for a scooter ride first thing in the morning, before even getting dressed. How I’d love to be able to wake up and hit the ground running like that. {sigh}

Side note: This system also works well for little ones who are transitioning from a sippy cup to a regular cup. I start with a full cup of milk next to me, and she has an almost-empty one. Each time she drains it, I add more. This way, she’s getting practice drinking from an open cup, the inevitable spill isn’t going to be as tragic as it would if the cup were full, and I’m not having to go to the refrigerator every two seconds so she can have a refill.

Toddlers also crave any chance to sweep. (Amazing, right?)

But as much as they love it, those big brooms are just not made to be used by people with such tiny bodies.

Just look at her face as she struggles to hold the broom upright.

However, a whisk broom is just the right size for little hands. She can actually move the dirt around this way, and even see some results. (Inside the house, we let her use our little brush and dustpan set, which she adores.  No matter who’s sweeping with the big broom, the toddler is our resident pile sweeper, and she can actually get a fair amount into the trash can this way.)

What are some simple ways you’ve found to help your little helper? Please leave a comment to let me know.

NOTE: This post is the first in a planned week-long series on helping and educating toddlers and preschoolers. For those of you who don’t have little ones in the home right now, you are more than welcome to come along anyway…If nothing else, you’ll see a really cute toddler in action. 😉   (Yes, of course I’m biased…I’m a mom!)

If not, I hope you’ll join me again next week when WhyAmySmiles goes back to its regular posting schedule. Either way, please pass along this blog address to those you know with little ones, and encourage them to join me here for the following posts this week:

Monday: Helping our wee helpers

Tuesday: Tot School fun

Wednesday:  Tot School on a shoestring

Thursday: Tot School organization

Friday: My favorite toddler resources

And, see the bonus post here.

Thanks for stopping by!

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