Monday, January 28, 2013

Before Five in a Row--The Very Hungry Caterpillar

We were out of town for most of last week, so I diverged from the "curriculum" list and chose another book that I love.  I kind of wish I had saved it for a full week because I could have easily filled up a week's worth of activities centered around this furry friend:

On Thursday, we busted out the Play-Doh (which Micah calls "tato" so I always have to clarify if he wants to play with Play-Doh or Mr. Potato Head).  Only we enhanced the Play-Doh experience by adding beads, googly eyes, and pipe cleaners.  

The goal was to make caterpillars who looked like this:

But with littles, you can't expect too much.  Here is what Sam came up with:

Micah had a mixture between caterpillar & monster.

Friday was caterpillar culinary day.  

Since China's cucumbers are about half the size of America's, our caterpillar's body was a little bit out of proportion.  I even opened a can of import black olives to complete his look.  

The boys, however, weren't very impressed.  Sam doesn't really like raw vegetables, so he just wanted to eat the banana sun.  And then the rest of the banana.  And then five more bananas after that.

Micah fared a little better but still had his hand in the carrot box for the majority of the time.  What was I supposed to expect?  It was snack time after all!

Then we talked about the process of metamorphosis.  We watched the Sesame Street "Word on the Street" podcast about metamorphosis and then acted it out.

First, I threw our collection of balls all around the living room and sent Micah the Caterpillar to eat all the "food" he could find.

Then they wrapped up in cocoons to wait for their butterfly wings to form.  After the fact, I did learn that Mr. Carle has mislead young minds for decades.  Butterflies don't actually form cocoons; moths do.  The metamorphosis of a butterfly includes a chrysalis.  Random fact of the day for ya!

Despite its scientific inaccuracy, the boys then popped out as a butterfly.  Too bad that butterfly didn't put away that permanent pile of laundry stacked up on the couch behind him.

My friend Carrie blogged about intentional parenting a few weeks ago.  She mentioned that she & her husband have chosen specific character values that they want to instill in their children.  As we've forged onward into the abyss of homeschooling, I've had to evaluate and reevaluate my underlying goals for all of this.  Yes, the structure is nice.  Sure, it feels good to stretch my creative wings.  And I'll even admit that I'm enjoying cruising Pinterest for fun ideas.  But the most important foundation I want to lay for them at these early moments of schooling is just to have a love for learning & reading.  I want my sons to be learners not just now but for the rest of their lives.  I do hope that what starts with Ezra Jack Keats & Margaret Wise Brown will blossom into reading classic literature and Puritan prose.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Babies On Board

I realize this is nearly a month overdue but my sister-in-law asked for some ideas on how we handled the little people on our long flight.  I wanted to post what we did before my subconscious blocks that entire experience from my mind.

Does this sign come in Boeing 747 size?  And do they make it in plurals?  

Or since we were on an Asia-bound flight, perhaps the bad English of the somewhat disturbing sign you find on cars here would have been more appropriate.

Whether good English or bad, the announcement is what I was in the market for when we made our trek across the planet.  As if it wasn't obvious enough from all our junk and all the noise, I wanted anyone and everyone to know that we were attempting international travel with three kiddos aged 3 and under.  Maybe knowing would inspire them to help as much as it certainly inspired them to stare and make helpful comments such as "Bless your heart" and "Your family should get a dog."  (Not even joking about that one--from a sweet South American woman in the LAX international terminal.)

In an effort to be equal to the task of carting my brood on a 14 hour flight, I put together an assortment of plane prizes for them.  The idea was the every hour, they got a present to open.  Inside was a cheap toy that would hopefully entertain them for at least 10 minutes.  I didn't care if it got lost.  I didn't care if it got broken.  I didn't care if they launched it across the plane and hit the unfortunate people sitting near us (though I'm sure those people might have cared).  I just wanted a few minutes of entertainment and something to break up the time.

I happened to be at Target when they were having a 30% off sale on their dollar aisle.  I loaded up on activity books, erasers, stamps, a mini-stapler, books, and puzzles.  Knowing from this experience that Micah enjoyed tattoos and they also make a great identifier for lost children, I picked up a cheap set from a sporting goods store.  I also packed our lacing cards and a few of our toddler busy bags.  (If you're interested in making your own set of busy bags, here is a great blog for that.)

To heighten the excitement of a plane prize and to extend its usefulness of providing entertainment to my child, I wrapped them all with fancy wrapping paper (read: free used newspaper).

The great thing about having illiterate children is that I could write directly on each present what was inside.  That way I could make sure each boy was receiving the same thing in order to reduce sibling rivalry.  Because don't we all remember that one time when we got jealous that our sibling received a crappy stapler and we didn't?

My kids both love books but I knew I couldn't pack our entire library in our carry-on bags.  So I chose books that would bring the most bang for their weigh in how much time they would consume.  I chose a puzzle book and search & find book.  

I also purchased Richard Scarry's "A Day at the Airport."  In typical Busytown style, Scarry gives a grand tour of the airport and the process flying.  Though my kids are certainly familiar flying, this book could definitely be useful to alleviate anxiety for little ones who have never flown before.  My goal with this book was to read it during our long layover in LA and play a search & find game of our own in the terminal to see if we could locate the things featured in the book.  As it turned out, we spent so much time going back & forth between terminals that we didn't even get to play.  

I have boys.  Boys have energy.  An obvious statement that needs to be emphasized when traveling with kiddos of the male persuasion.  I wanted to make the most out of every single minute of our layovers to bleed as much energy out of them as I could.  So our airport prizes included balloons, koosh balls, a football, and a mini-airplane.  We found an empty gate and let the boys run wild.

Let's not forget snacks.  I usually try to make relatively healthy choices for my kids, but on travel days, if eating 9 packages of fruit snacks will help them avoid utter melt-down, 9 package of fruit snacks they will have.  I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get my idea.  I picked up their favorite snacks, divided them into individual bags, and made each boy their very own snack bag to draw from.

I packed it all in a separate, easily accessible travel bag and voila!  In addition to a few iPad and Kindle apps and free reign over the plane movies, lots of hours of entertainment for my little travelers.

So to summarize, here are all the tips I've learned from experience or received from other well-traveled families and have come to rely on for traveling with kids:
  • Anything goes.  I'm not advocating disobedience or children running amuck up and down plane aisles, but travel days are hard on everyone.  While limiting screen time or snacks at home is fine,  my top priority on travel days is just to make it through the day.
  • Don't expect to get any sleep, read any books, or watch any movies.  This is always the attitude that Kevin & I go in with.  Having low expectations is helpful for us.  Granted, we usually do end up getting a little bit of all of those things.  
  • Do whatever it takes to get on the flight attendants' good side.  Be friendly.  Ask them their names.  Learn about them (flight attendants have fascinating things to say!).  Tell them your story of why in the world you're traveling across the world with so many children.  Try to connect with them before you start needing things.  And by all means, don't let your kids push the call button!
  • Respectfully push boundaries for your sanity.  They tell you not to let your kids sleep on the floor.  They tell you to keep your infant buckled in the bassinet and to take him our if there's turbulence.  My perspective on this is that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.  
  • Don't be embarrassed to ask for preferential treatment.  Ask for early boarding.  Ask if you can go to the head of the security line.  The worst answer you'll get is no.  I've found that Asian & African airports are much more child-friendly than American.  We are often zipped through the fast line at immigration.
  • Don't be embarrassed to ask for help from random strangers.  More than likely, they'll be happy to lend a hand.  People have pulled our luggage for us.  I've had Chinese grandmothers watch over my boys as they slept to make sure they didn't fall off the seat.  When we brought the boys home from Ethiopia, I forgot to bring enough formula for Sam.   After Kevin nearly strangled me, I marched up and down the plane asking every single person I could communicate with if they had any.  Thankfully, Chinese kids drink formula until they're nearly three years old, so I was able to find a nice woman who gave me some in a Pringles can.
  • Make as many laps around the plane with restless kids as you want.  Kids don't like to sit still.  And that's fine!  International flights are great because they actually encourage you to move around.  
  • Pack substantial food.  I have a friend who once got stuck on the runway for hours, yet the flight attendants would not serve food.  A hungry child is a no fun child!  Having a small meal on hand is key in situations like that.
  • Buy individually wrapped snacks.  If you don't want to spend the money, just put them in zip-loc bags.  This will free you up to take care of other things while your kid handles his snack on his own.
  • Have a sack for trash and a box of tissues readily available once you're on the plane.  It might not be a lot of space, but it's your space for the next 10-15 hours, depending on your flight time.  Life will feel less stressful if your area remains somewhat clean and you don't have to use your sleeve to wipe snotty noses.
  • Pack at least one change of clothes for each family member.  I know that carry-on luggage space is tight but it's worth it not to have to wear nasty clothes during those unfortunate vomiting or pooping episodes.  On our last flight, Hudson was on antibiotics, which made for some un-fun diapers.  In our early parenting days, Sam had a glorious blow-out and no clothes to change into. Lesson learned!
  • Reserve the bulkhead row if you can.  This will probably mean arriving at the airport early to check-in.  Do it.  The extra leg room is worth its length in gold.
Surely, this list is not exhaustive, so if anyone has any other hints or tips, please share!  
Happy travels to all!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Before Five in a Row--Corduroy

Another week of school--or "projects" as we call them around here.  This was our book for the week:

On Monday, we built Corduroy out of construction paper.  Yes, I know that the bear I drew has no neck.  Yes, I also know that I didn't even use real buttons for poor Corduroy's overalls.  But in case you haven't heard, the pollution in our neck of the woods has been off-the-charts nasty this week.  So paper buttons will have to do until I'm willing to leave the house without a bubble suit on.

Next week, Sam & I will be working on learning which way is up.

On Tuesday, we did a counting game with plastic counting pieces I picked up at a teacher store before we left the States.  How convenient that there were bear pieces inside!  We counted Corduroys as we put them in a bed.  Unfortunately for this male-dominated house, we are short on toy beds so we were forced to use a giant bowl & the base of a block puzzle.  No one seemed to notice.

One thing that I like about this curriculum is that it incorporates a simple Bible verse connected with the story.  This week, we learned a portion of Proverbs 17:17--A friend loves at all times.  We talked about how Lisa, the little girl in the story, loved Corduroy and took care of him by sewing his button back on.  I made up a song to go with our counting, to break up to monotony of 1-10.

(To the tune of 10 Little Monkeys)
One little Corduroy jumping on the bed
"You're my friend," Lisa said.
"A friend loves at all times.
I'm so glad that you're mine."

Oh, and a side note--my two year old can now count to 10.  My three year old can't.  

On Wednesday, we played a verb acting game.  I taught them what a verb is (or "berb" if you ask Micah) and located several of them throughout the book.  We then acted out the different verbs.  The boys were particularly fond of the word gasp.

We concluded our verb game by sewing lacing cards like Lisa did.  Hudson decided to join the party when he woke up early from his nap.  But instead of sewing a lacing card, he ate it.  

On Thursday, we expanded on the verb "search" we learned the day before by searching for buttons and Corduroy's animal friends from the toy section of the department store.  Having a small apartment makes a game of search & find pretty manageable for my little guys.  How convenient to have a dryer in my living room to house a missing button!

Then we switched roles and Micah hid the toys & buttons.  Apparently we need to work on his concept of hiding because he dumped all the toys in once place and put a blanket over them.  Then he laid on top of it.  Let's just say that my search wasn't too difficult.

On Friday, we finished up the week by making button peanut butter cookies.  Sam took every opportunity he could to eat the dough.  Licking the spoon, licking his fingers, throwing bouncy balls and baby toys in the bowl and then licking them...his creativity was endless.  As was his appetite.

We made the cookies into buttons by pressing a spice bottle into them and using a pen to make divots.  I won't  bother showing a picture of the finished product because they don't even look like buttons.  And they're burnt (but that shouldn't surprise anyone).

We had a sweet friend spontaneously come over that afternoon to help us with our project.  A sweet friend who brought gifts of city-wide famous popcorn with sesame seeds popped on the street and women's athletic socks.  She was happy to try our cookies but even more excited to try an American delicacy called "peanut butter & jelly sandwiches."  This is why I belong in this country: because it doesn't take much to impress my guests.  

As hard of a time I give Micah for not being able to count to ten yet, it has been so fun watching his little mind develop & grow.  He loves stories and won't sit on the potty without one of us making up a tale of Spicy the Cat or Richard the Donkey.  I like talking about things that might even be over his head and then find myself happily surprised when it seems to stick.  For example, we talked about all the onomatopoeias used in "Corduroy."  Then he responded with another one he remembered from last week's book "The Snowy Day."  Maybe he'll be my literary child instead of a mathematician.

I'm not sure how I'm going to handle next week because we will be traveling for three days to another city for a meeting.  Maybe we'll take the week off.  That might not be so good for my sanity because it really does help the day flow if I have at least one structured activity for the boys to focus on.  Maybe I'll consult my blossoming friend Pinterest to see what other inside activities I can come up with.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Slowly, Slowly Come

There is a Chinese phrase that we typically say umpteen-million times per day that directly translates "slowly, slowly come."  It's basically the Chinese version of "Rome wasn't built in a day."  Regardless of what language you're speaking, that adage has certainly been true for us the past three weeks as we've been adjusting back to Asian life.  Here are but a few examples:

  • I have a snazzy new smartphone now.  OK, it's neither new nor snazzy but it can text Chinese characters, which my old phone could not.  So I've been trying to expand my reading & writing vocabulary by experimenting with texting.  My dear, patient househelper is usually the recipient of my feeble efforts.  I am most certain it gives her & her husband stitches of laughter every time her phone pings with a new text from me.  Like when I wanted to ask for green beans but accidentally ask for an iron.  Or when I meant to tell her that I'm not sure if we have enough food for lunch tomorrow but put the character for grass instead.  Among our many weird quirks that she's getting used to, I'd rather not add a supposed propensity to eat household appliances and meals fit for cattle.
  • Speaking of our househelper, she speaks incredibly fast.  We have a good friend here who once took the trophy for being the fastest talker in the East, but our new househelper has certainly snatched that title from her.  I can't tell you how many blank stares I've given her recently.  Then she says it again and I try again to understand & respond.  Often times, our exchanges end in her giggling and calling my Chinese "cute."  Cute?!?!  I did NOT spend years of intensive study to be labeled "cute."  But I suppose it's better than being labeled a dumb egg, which is what elementary kids call the slow kids in their class.
  • Kevin has not been spared from transition faux pas either.  When attempting to settle a bill with a local friend, he tried to give her 26 rmb instead of 260.  For the sake of her wallet, she made sure to clear up that misunderstanding!

With all the mistakes permeating life, it's been so easy to feel exhausted and somewhat dejected at the end of the day.  I already did this language thing once!  I was already over the communication hump!  Now it's gone!  Two steps forward, and one giant leap back.  

But God was so good to encourage me as I was reading the account of Noah this week.  All those cheery Sunday school songs have duped me for years into thinking that Noah built a boat, got on the boat, waited out the rain for 40 days, and then happily returned to life as usual.  Far from it.  It did rain for that long, but then he had to wait as the earth dried.  He sent out a raven.  Still wet.  More waiting.  He sent out a dove.  Still wet.  More waiting.  Waiting, waiting, and more waiting.  He waited for nearly a year and then was finally able to disembark.  

Noah was simply called to wait.  Perhaps I shouldn't say simply because there is nothing easy nor simple about waiting!  Instead, I find that waiting contentedly is one of the most difficult disciplines of life.  So maybe I'm called to wait and live in grace until life's rhythm returns to again.  Buckets of grace, Kevin says.  Slowly, slowly come, China says.  I think I'll try to start listening!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Out & About

There once was a girl who drove a car.  A car big enough for three car seats for three little boys.  

Then the girl moved to a place where she didn't have a car.  She traded her wheels in for something a little more economical.  It doesn't look like much but it gets great gas mileage.

But it only seats two so #3 gets strapped on for the ride.

Ergo plus sherpa fuzzy bag, and she's ready to hit the town.  As an added bonus, baby gets rosy cheeks & a rosy nose to add to his charm.

But terror strikes this family on the move when #2 realizes that it's cold outside.  It's cold and all the kid sized gloves have gone MIA.  Frozen fingers and a half mile walk until a cab comes results in a sizable fit, which probably convinced the cab driver that the one-child policy is the way to go.

Then Girl has a Dumb & Dumber moment and remembers she's had an extra pair of gloves in her pocket the entire time.  Sorry, son.  

Out of the cab, back in the stroller, and on the move again.  Now the true test of stroller agility begins.  Narrow doorways, no ramps, and stairs aplenty.  Backwards, forwards, weaving in, out, and around.  If there were an Olympic sport for stroller pushing, expat Asian residents would certainly be gold medal recipients.  

Finally, this girl who once had a car arrives at her destination.  Her children, though missing a shoe and wearing oversized gloves, appear to still be in one piece.

Though this might seem to be the end of the tale, this is in fact just the beginning.  Girl then drops of the two oldest children and hops in yet another cab to head south to a furniture market.  She meets up with a local friend who knows everything there is to know about this city, and they head to the market, only to find that twenty or so steps are missing from the middle of the staircase leading up to the market's only entrance.  "The stairs are broken," shouts a man from above (who perhaps has the ability to fly because there is no other explanation as to how he got up there), "so we're all taking a vacation for 10 days."  

So Girl takes a ride in the friend's tiny clown car (fondly named Little Blue) to another furniture market that possibly moonlights as a meat locker because the temperatures were about the same.  Girl's husband then reminds her that markets never have heat and that she should have worn more clothing.  This would have been a useful reminder, thought Girl, before we left the house.  Nevertheless, she stiffens her chin (though it was already stiff enough since it was near frozen to begin with) and offers little to no help in choosing bunk beds for the children.  Husband did the shopping, bargaining, and paying while she danced around trying to keep her toes warm to the peppy tunes provided by a stereo for sale complete with fake fire place and disco balls.

Beds bought, her shoes housing 10 tiny popsicles, Girl hobbled to the street corner to hail another cab.  She reminded Husband again that she was cold.  He gives a tired smile and shoves her into a taxi. 

A taxi with heat.

It was a good day.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Before Five in a Row: The Snowy Day

In an attempt to get some routine & normalcy back into our lives, I started a very low-key preschool curriculum with the boys this week.  It's called Before Five in a Row, and it's basically an amplified reading program.  You read the same story five days in a row (hence the name), and there is a corresponding activity each day.  Since Pinterest & I are on the slow track to becoming friends, there isn't a Hobby Lobby within 1,000 miles, and I'm not a crafty person by nature, it should be interesting to see what we end up doing together over the next few months.  But I'm excited to start it and am excited to share our schooling capers on this here ol' blog.

I figured since it is still freezing outside, this book would be quite appropriate:
On Monday, we did a snow experiment.  We trekked outside to collect snow in cups, and then we watched it throughout the rest of the day to see what would happen.  (Spoiler alert: it melted.)

By that point, the snow was over a week old, so it was more like crusty ice.  Not very conducive to digging.  Plus the fact that in the move, the boys' gloves have all disappeared.  

No gloves + sitting in the snow = a rather unhappy Sam, who announced that he was leaving to go see daddy.  Too bad for the little guy that he has no idea which building is ours.  With 20 to choose from, he more than likely would never have found home.

On Tuesday, we made tracks in the snow.  We first practiced walking like Peter did with toes pointed in and toes pointed out.  Then we experimented to see what kinds of tracks other things would leave in the snow.  Only this time we were smart enough to stay put inside the warm house and use a different kind of snow.  

On second thought, a two year old and copious amounts of flour really wasn't smart at all.  

On Wednesday, we went on a circle search.   I cut out a circle, taped it to the end of a chopstick, and made a circle wand for each kiddo.  

We first looked for all the circles in the book.  Sam made sure to point out the triangles as well because that is his favorite shape.  I never knew a two year old could have a favorite shape, but mine certainly does.

We then went on a circle search around the house.  The dryer door, the heater knob, and car wheels were all most excellent discoveries.  My favorite circle in the house is definitely the random moons that adorn our tile in the bathrooms.  

Thursday was craft day.  I had some snowflake and snowman crafts that some college students brought over a few years ago.  When I busted out the construction paper, I gave them two options for the sky color: blue for a day time sky or black for a night time sky.  Micah chose gray.  We've only been back in China for two weeks, and Micah already things the most appropriate sky color is gray.  This is bad.  Very bad.

But there was glue involved, so they were thrilled.

Perhaps overly thrilled...

On Friday, we did a snowball counting activity with cotton balls.  I found out that Micah cannot in fact count to 10.  Shame on my mothering head!  

Sam was even less excited about the counting than Micah.  He instead drew pictures on my number signs.  That's a backhoe, in case you can't tell.

There ya have it.  The end of Week #1.  Hopefully, these projects will carry us through the rest of the dreary winter days.