Thursday, May 29, 2014

Busy Bags for Kindergartners / Boredom Busters

Busy bags have long been the rage. I've known about them for years but never actually had an opportunity to put a single one together. You see, my youngest, now 3 1/2, still naps for 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon (yay!) and my oldest and I cherish this time together to do some school work and read his favorite books (lately...mostly reference books about gemstones and volcanoes).

This summer though, the school work load will probably be drastically diminished, leaving me with a gap of "quiet time" to fill in (we always try to keep the house relatively quiet during naptimes). Sure my Kindergartner can keep himself "entertained" for a while but not for "2 hours" every day and I could always use a few minutes to...say...plan future school units, cook meals, work out, shower, schedule appointments, pay bills... you know, the usual stuff! :) With these thoughts in mind, I decided to give the busy bags/boxes a try.  But exactly just what are busy bags and boxes?

A busy bag is a tote (often a bag or small box) into which a person will find all that is needed to accomplish one activity with no help. These activities are usually geared towards the toddlers-kindergartners (2-5) age group and are often designed to be done quietly and are also usually educational. The activities found in the bags have also usually been deemed age appropriate for the person they are intended for, therefore annihilating any possible frustrations on the behalf of the recipient as they are expected to work on the bags by themselves.  

Many people choose to limit the amount of time the person spends on each bag and instead provides several bags for rotation. A common scheme is the daily bag replacement (new bag everyday of the week but same bags week after week). Others prefer to replace the bag after a week has elapsed to really give the chance to an older child to finish a project for example (some simply hand the bag to the child whenever and take it whenever as well.). For my part, I chose to go the daily way, providing a new bin (each labeled "Monday" through "Friday") containing a few self-contained bags for each day and allowing my son access to a bin of his choice on the week-ends.

Inside his bins, I am aiming to provide a minimum of three bags (thus providing a choice of three activities daily), each filled with an autonomous project (after initial presentation of course). These bags and bins will, needless to say, be changed every so often. Projects will be completed after a certain amount of time, others won't grab any attention and so on, but for now, here is what I have gathered for my near 6 year old (he is currently 5, turning 6 in the summer):

Busy Bag Elements Spread Out

-Melissa & Doug Reusable Habitats Sticker Pad
-A few "I Spy..." Books by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick
-Lincoln Log Horseshoe Hill Station
-Snap Circuits Music Box
-Tangoes Classic
-Geoboard by Learning Resources
-Dinosaur Puzzle by Crocodile Creek
-Alex Toys: Simply Needlepoint Butterfly
-Sticky Mosaics Hidden Pictures : Wild Animals by Orb Factory

-Not pictured but to be included are:
-Legos with a project book (Legos are always available but if I add a booklet filled with projects to build, they'll be attractive)
-Montessori Insets with a booklet of drawings (my son will first have to figure out which insets were used to make that drawing and then do his own and personalized it)
-Wood blocks (aka floating foam) projects with booklet (assembly of birdhouse and such with the Durafoam according to instructions) (blocks and projects come from Step2's Real Project Workshop)
-Lite Brite (project sheets came with the flatscreen)
-Cutting Projects (homemade. My son loves cutting different materials and shapes so I'll prepare some projects for him to cut and piece together)
-My Little Sandbox - Dino Land by Be Good Company (indoor sandbox/sensory bin with dinos)
-Matching Cards Sets

Of course, these choices are based on my son's needs and interests (for example...I know he could use some extra fine motor work so needlepoint was my pick...not his but the dinosaur puzzle...that will probably be a high interest activity for him; something he'd have picked himself!). I'll also add that building these bins wasn't cheap considering my choice of projects but I think they will go a long way each day and week as they will be out during a limited time only (aka little sister's naptime on weekdays only...and only during our summer break). It was important to me to make each activity a little bit a of treat and a challenge too. Sure I could have put a play dough can in a bag and called it a day but play dough is always available in our pantry and the interest would not have been very grand. By the way...Bags and bins for the younger crowds are mostly homemade and usually built pretty inexpensively.  I'm starting to think of some for my when my little one stops napping in case you're interested so I may post about hers at a later time.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

"Puuurfect Paws" Grooming Salon Pretend Play

Have you hosted a Grooming Salon pretend play date yet? If's a must! I don't know if it's because it was our first time experimenting with a "real" dramatic play set up or because our theme was really fun but it was a huge success and I cannot wait to put together our next pretend play time. In the meantime, here's how this one was set up (and because a picture is worth a 1,000 words...this will be mostly pictures and few words...):

Golden Pup Taking the Plunge in the Finest Grooming Salon in Town!

As Europe's finest weather has finally arrived, I chose to set up our station outside for everyone to enjoy the warm (ok...a tad bit hot) and sunny weather. The children helped me carry everything in and out of the house but I did place everything without them prior to playtime for the surprise effect. I also gave them a tour of the salon once it was ready and pretended they were new salon staff and had to know where everything was and how it worked...Then, the fun began. My son didn't care for it nearly as much as my daughter did but that was not exactly a big surprise. He never liked plush toys, never played pretend and almost 6 years old. My daughter on the other hand thought everything was so pretty, loves plushes (especially cats) and plays pretend daily. She remained at the grooming salon for over an hour...and to this day, still asks me to bring back most of the items used in the salon so she can groom her kitty cats. :)

"Puuurfect Paws" Grooming Salon's Reception Area with the waiting room

Our cash register was very busy that day!

Patrons had to "fill in" a questionnaire about the service requested for their pet that day.

I created loyalty cards for the salon so they could be stamped after each visit.
This was a very popular feature!

The grooming salon's bath area with a wash basin, plenty of "hand towels" and "washcloths".
Lots of small empty bottles, clean combs and brushes.

Content of the salon' s bath area basket: Tried to keep within a certain color scheme
and decorated with silk flowers to make everything pleasing to the eyes.

Grooming Salon's Grooming and Relaxation Area: Pet books and everything for pet grooming:
brushes, combs, dryer, swabs, cotton balls, etc. Wanted to add out electric clipper but they were
still charged so I decided against it! :)

The Relaxation Corner of our Salon: cushions & pet books!

Handmade scarves, ties and bow ties for kitties and doggies:
I bought elastic and scraps of  cotton and made these in an evening!

"Flopsie" modeling a handmade bow tie after his
grooming appointment with Z.

The grooming area of the grooming salon featured lots of grooming
and styling tools...all presented on a nice tray! 

Doggies were treated to nice felt bones that day: Made
these for our pet unit two years ago.
Daughter at play: Many cats were groomed that day!

The official Grooming Salon sign we hung in our hedge

Ta da! That is how our first pretend play station of the season was set up. We have many more to come. I actually intend to put together one every week and I do expect most of them to be taking place outside as well (love spending time outdoors!). For a list of the stations to be taking place this summer, click here.

P.S. Interruptions during pretend play are never fun...If you have some ground rules to establish...Do it prior to the kids getting to work. Knowing my kids, I knew they'd play nicely with the station but I also knew it was our first time taking the plushes outside and wanted to make something clear: No plushes were to touch the ground. :)

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

2014 - 2015 Preschool Themes

School year 2013-2014 has yet to come to an end that I've already started planning for school year 2014-2015. I simply couldn't help myself: I love planning and the ideas were flowing. For example, I've already come up with a brand new batch of themes to explore for my 3 year old preschooler. I've also created various assessment forms (aka progress report) for my use every week to evaluate how my little one is progressing within the Montessori program (though we truly are not exclusively following this educational approach I must say) and I am now working on a new daily schedule, lunch menus and so forth.

Preschool Themes 

For now, what I'd like to share with you is the new list of units I've assembled for the upcoming school year. You'll find some "classic/traditional" thematics  (bugs, weather, transportation) but also a few more personalized  ones.  The beauty of picking out themes for one child is that you can truly base these on that child's interest. I'm not saying that I exclusively chose topics that my daughter will adore but I consciously included a lot of themes that I know she'll be motivated to explore.  Of course, a few of our units are not going to be exactly Montessori-friendly this year but as I said, I'm not a hardcore Montessorian so I allowed myself this "parenthesis" for a few units (fairies, princesses).

2014-2015 Preschool Themes

(School is due to start on August 25 2014)
Down by the Seashore

Woodland Fairies
On The Go (Transportation)
Fashion Week
Autumn Fun
Kitty Cats & Their Wilder Counterparts

Firefighters are Community Helpers
In the Kitchen
Cuddly Teddy (Teddy Bears)

Build it Up (Blocks)
Life's a Zoo
The Princess in Me

(Winter Break shall start December 19, 2014)
Up in the Sky (Solar System)
It's a Birthday Party

Winter Wonderland
In the Wintry Woods
Lollies, Gummies and Other Candies
Pups & Dogs

Chinese New Year: Baa to You!
Valentine's Day
Mardi Gras / Carnaval
Inventions & Imagination

Construction Zone
Training Camp (Sports)
St. Patrick's Day
It's Raining, it's Pouring (Weather)

(Spring Break shall be held the week of April 6, 2015)
Spring's In
Earth Day
On the Farm

By the Pond
At the Fair
Don't "Bug" Me (Bugs)
Amazing Plants

(School is out on June 12, 2015)
Teatime and Sweets are my Favorites
Deep in the Ocean

Needless to say, needs and interests are subject to change and so are these weekly themes. Family visits and health crises also tend to squeeze in and may cancel/shorten up some days/weeks but overall, this is what should be found on our shelves this upcoming school year...What's going to be on yours?

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Breaking Radio Silence & Some Asia Continent Activities

I am terribly sorry for being so quiet on both Facebook and the blog lately. I really didn't mean to but it has been a bit busier and more stressful around here this Spring and this has left me with little free time to post anything. Unfortunately, I do not expect things to be back to "normal" until much later this month either (possibly the beginning of June even). I do miss blogging though and will most definitely be back once most everything is settled. Until then, I thought I'd share some of the educational fun we've been having during our Asia unit. Kind of a wordless post with just a few activities.

Art - Japanese Lantern
These were most definitely adapted for kids...They don't look very traditional but they were fun to do...Lots of instructions on Japanese paper lanterns available on the Internet.

Korean Calligraphy
Not all letters look the same from language to language and as Adrian is part Korean, I thought it'd be nice for him to learn how to write a few words in the language. It's good culturally and it's a good exercise for dexterity as well. Here's to "Thursday".

Language - Reading "fortunes" from "Fortune Cookies"
I try to include language activities as much as possible for Adrian and try to make reading fun. He loves  digging for things in playdough so I decided to make the much stereotyped fortune cookies for him to break open and read. I know we'd never find these treats in Asia and explained to Adrian where to look for them...aka in Chinese restaurants in the U.S. :)

Art : Painting with Tea Bags
Tea being from China, here was my chance to offer a very sensorial activity: painting with tea bags. The children loved the smell and so did almost convinced me of trying tea again! :) We used a fruit tea sampler and a green tea bag as well.

Art: Crafting a Chinese Fan
Little hand fans are quite popular in this household due to the presence of Princess Zahavah so the latter was happy to get a chance at making her own along with her brother. Using a folded coffee filter and wooden sticks, it was quite simple to make and provided lots of play...Further instructions at Busy Bee Kids Crafts.

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