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A Year of Trying to be a Better Mom

Birthday Cake for the President August 5, 2010

Lately Zach has been very into the idea of birthdays. The trouble is that our whole family has winter birthdays. Well, Pete’s may technically be spring, but March is still winter in my book! Last night Zach wished me a Happy Birthday. I explained to him that it wasn’t my birthday, but it was the president’s birthday and if he wanted, the next day we could make him a cake. Zach thought that was a good idea. Of course he did!

We had to go to the grocery store today for typical staples like bread and milk. I decided to keep this cake activity simple today and do store-bought. We walked down the cake aisle to pick out a mix. Hmmm. What kind of cake would the president like? Funfetti. Definitely Funfetti.

Yum. Funfetti.

Zach has done the cooking and baking thing a bunch of times. He really likes to help. So, I thought I’d try talking about some simple math with him today. I didn’t expect him to really understand at this point, but talking about it can’t hurt. So, rather than just counting the 3 eggs we put in, I asked him how many eggs we had left after each addition. So, after the first egg was added I said, “OK. We put in 1 egg. How many more do we need to make 3 eggs?” He said 2. Now, I think that was just a fluke, but hey, I congratulated him on the right answer! That’s how he learns.

Other things I talked about as we baked: where we live, the country, the leader of our country is the president, the president’s name is Barack Obama, it was Barack Obama’s birthday and that’s why we made this cake. By the end of the night if you asked him who the president was, he could say, “Brack Oh Mama!” Pretty close!

Cracking eggs, he's gotten good at this

Stirring

Nothing says "Presidential Birthday" like Funfetti cake

Once the cakes were baked is when the “Torture of the 2 1/2 Year Old” officially commenced. He wanted to eat it right away. But first, the layers had to cool completely. And then I had to frost them. And then we had to add sprinkles. And then he had to eat his dinner first before he could be allowed to eat any dessert. You’d have thought we were pulling his little fingernails out one by one they way he acted. But FINALLY it was time to eat.

I cut us each a slice and put a candle in Zach’s. And just like every birthday party he’s ever had, he began to cry hysterically. At first I thought it was because he was impatient and just wanted his cake. But now I think he might be scared of the candle! I’m not sure. We did manage to sing Happy Birthday to Barack Obama though.

What's a birthday cake without a candle?

Sobbing during the birthday song

Digging in

Now we're happy!

What did Zach learn today? Some simple math (or, at least I introduced him to the questions of simple addition and subtraction). He also learned who the president is. And patience. Oh patience. Waiting for cake is HARD. And tasting cake in all it’s stages is sensory learning (powder vs. batter vs. dry baked vs. frosted baked).

What did Mommy learn? Toddler patience is a hard-fought battle. He did surprisingly well, considering! Also, we need to figure out this birthday candle thing before his 3rd birthday!

 

Making Butter August 4, 2010

You know how when you cook a special recipe that requires ingredients like heavy whipping cream and you never use all of it? Well, I made such a recipe recently. I’ve been wondering how to use up the rest of the whipping cream before it would expire. I suppose an obvious answer would be to whip it…and make whipped cream…but I had nothing to eat whipped cream on. Though don’t think I’m above eating whipped cream by the spoonful. I mean…no, no, I never do fat-tastic things like that! Never.

Anyway, I was browsing activities to do with preschoolers and came across these instructions for how to make butter. The only required materials were whipping cream and a jar with a lid. I had all of those. Perfect!

Supplies: Whipping cream with a lidded container

Now all I had to do was pour the whipping cream into the container and shake. In about 10 minutes time, the directions said, we would have butter. And, I’m not gonna lie, these are the thoughts that went through my head, “Wow. Only 10 minutes. Why don’t people make their own butter more often?” And I was also imagining it would turn out all lovely and smooth, like a tub of Country Crock or something. Um. No.

This is what we started out with

After 10 minute of shaking, there's some butter

After 20 minutes, still has liquid in it

After 30 minutes. Dang. This is why people don't shake their own butter. It's still liquidy (though you can clearly see the butter)

And here is what Zach looked like, shaking the butter, during all of this time.

Beginning shakes, enthusiastic

After 10 minutes, a little tired out

20 minutes?? Mom...I'm all done shaking...I'll just sit here and sip my milk while you finish up. Kay?

Don’t worry, we alternated shaking turns. And while we were shaking, of course we had to sing shaking appropriate songs. Like “Shake your booty” (except I changed it to “Shake Your Butter”…clever). At the thirty minute mark I decided to call it done. We could see that there was, in fact, butter in the container. No need for a whole tub! So, we did a taste test.

Getting a small sample

Yep, tastes like butter

Then I drained the rest of the liquid and put the butter in the fridge. Maybe we’ll use it on toast tomorrow morning!

It looks like cottage cheese, but it's butter

What did Zach learn? About physical changes. Shaking up the cream churned it into butter. It was a little science experiment. I asked him what he thought the cream would do (he didn’t know, obviously). He did say it went poo poo on the potty. Um…can you tell we’ve been talking about THAT lately?? Then, as we were shaking it up, I asked him to feel the differences in how the cream felt in the container. It was pretty interesting, at about 3 or 4 minutes into shaking, I could tell we had probably produced whipped cream, the container felt much lighter and you couldn’t hear liquid sloshing around. Then after 3 or 4 more minutes, the liquid sound returned.  The fat particles from the cream were separated out from the liquid, the fat was sticking together in the butter. At least, that’s my explanation for it. Pretty neat. Oh–and tasting the butter adds a sensory experiment to the learning. We didn’t do this, but it probably would have been a good idea to taste the cream before making it into butter, to talk about the differences.

What did Mommy learn? All of the above. Plus…use a lot less cream next time! And shaking butter is hard work. THAT’S why people just buy it pre-made. Though, maybe I could whip it in my Kitchen Aid? Maybe I’ll perform a mommy science experiment some other time when I have about to expire cream to waste.

 

Whoa…is it dusty in here or what? July 30, 2010

Um, hi.

I know, I know. I said I would write. I said I would write EVERY day. And I intended to do that. And then, well. You see, I got BUSY. And I bet you can hardly imagine that, as a mother of now nearly 7 month old twins and a 2 1/2 year old, I might be busy. But I was.

Sorry for neglecting you, my precious blog. Sorry for abandoning you, my handful of faithful readers! I am back. And that’s the thing about journeys right? You may get off course, but it takes just one step on the old path to get back on it again. So. Here I am.

And never to fear. I may have been too busy to write (and boy do I have the list of excuses, but I’ll spare you), but not too busy to be keeping my children busy!

To fill you in on the past almost 2 months, I’ll just do a sneak peek here. Then, as I have time, I will update these sneak peeks with posts and tutorials. But I will simply move forward as I do that, so as not to create an even FURTHER backlog as I try to catch up.

So, since we last spoke. Here is what we have been  up to.

We….

Wrote our own songs & lyrics

Went on quite a few road trips to Michigan and Minnesota

Got to ride on Grandpa's tractor

Got to see our G.G. when she came to visit

Made a fort out of blankets in the living room

Painted picture frames for all our grandpas

...and for Daddy

Painted a t-shirt for our cousin, Ethan, because it was his first birthday

Made the wrapping paper for Ethan's present

Celebrated Father's Day

Learned to use a train whistle

Went to a BBQ at Uncle Chris' and made new friends

Went out for ice cream

Flew remote control toys with Daddy (this is a helicopter)

Painted the letter D

Made a Chinese "Dragon Kite"

Made thumbprint art

Killed time at the Dr.'s office by practicing shape recognition

Made an entire orchestra's worth of paper plate and cardboard instruments, like this Paper Plate Violin

and this Paper Towel Tube Flute

and these Paper Plate Cymbals

and finally, a cardboard box "Color Piano" (I think my kid is going to be a musician one day)

Had to go in the basement and hang out because of tornado sirens

Made thunder noises with a big sheet of paper and talked about weather (so it's not so scary next time there is a big storm)

Did 4th of July themed activities like hand print fireworks with Mommy

and lit up "snakes" with Daddy (insert Mommy "eyeroll" here)

Got our first set of golf clubs at Grandma's house in Minnesota

Went to the splash park (and the beach, and played in our sprinkler, and played in our kiddie pool)

Started solids

Found our feet

Went to Aunt Ciana's graduation party in Michigan

Made an awesome race car out of a big, cardboard box

Played "house" and "restaurant" and "this is where the puppy lives" with a big, cardboard box

Painted whatever we wanted with brushes

Made scribble drawings

Played with Easter Eggs (again)

Pretended to be a puppy (a lot).

Decided that THIS is how you play with a bouncy seat (and there's no stopping us)

Started trying to CRAWL (Mommy says, "AHHHH!")

Played with textures like crinkly newspaper

Made an elevator on our living room wall

Painted with noodles. How silly!

Decided we should do things, "All by ourselves"...like put on our sunglasses.

We went to the park, and on playdates. We pretended to be puppies and frogs. We developed an imaginary tiger as a friend.We colored and painted and cooked and made things…like I said…we were BUSY.

And there you have it. Whew!

(please check back for individual posts on these projects as I get time to update them. I will link the posts to the pictures.)

 

Day 46: Nature Walk Collection June 3, 2010

Nature Walk? Girl, you live in the city.

Yeah, yeah, I know. We’re about as urban jungle as it gets. Most of our “nature” has been planted by man alongside paved streets and concrete sidewalks, in cement potters and next to railroad tracks. Here are some prime examples of “nature”, Chicago-style:

"Nature"

"Nature"

"Nature"

"Nature"

So, not much to go on. But luckily, there are some cute little green spaces that neighborhood associations plant along the way. We decided to visit one today. There is a block long garden path not far from us that we decided to walk to. This was our “nature walk”.

Garden Walk

Prior to leaving for the walk, I labeled a few envelopes with different colors. I had red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown and black. I wrote the name of the color on the front of the envelope, along with a scribble block of color underneath to show it more. I also filled in a little color on the back of the envelope at the opening.

Front of the envelope

Back of the envelope

Then on the path I let him just sort of find things. Every time he did, I asked him if he wanted to add it to our “collection”. He enthusiastically said, “Yes!” So we would sort through the envelopes to find the one that matched whatever we were looking at and we would put it in. My only rule, since this was a planted garden, was that the object had to have fallen to the ground already. We couldn’t pick it. Unless it was a dandelion, I’m pretty sure they don’t care about those!

Our first encounter was with a butterfly! A black, orange and white butterfly. Zach spotted it right away. The little creature did us a favor and didn’t fly off when we stopped to admire it. Zach bent over it and said, “Hi butterfly. You’re cute. Cuuuuuuute. Cuuuuuuuute.” He says the same thing to the babies, pretty funny!

"Cuuuute, cuuuuute" Butterfly

Close up

After that he would walk along the path and find things. We’d see what color envelope it matched and we’d put it in.

Feeling the needles of a pine tree, he said it felt like a broom. He's right.

Green pine needles

Brown stick

Oh snap! Mommy didn't make a white envelope. Oops.

As for other wildlife, we saw:

A bee

Another butterfly, this one was actually really pretty on the front side, a nice bright blue. But it flew away too fast for me to get a front pic of it, so here is the back.

Bird

We also saw a cool dragonfly (and some other bugs), but he was too fast for me to take a picture of. At the end of the walk we had collected enough stuff to fill most of our envelopes, only blue and black remained empty. But since the butterflies covered those colors, we certainly found them, we just couldn’t take them with us.

Our nature collection

What did Zach learn today? To observe and appreciate nature (at least the nature in our surroundings). We encountered and observed some wildlife. We also talked about colors, though I didn’t push them on him, I just sort of suggested.

What did Mommy learn today? I didn’t press the lesson today, I planned on it, but I just let it happen. I didn’t ask him what the colors were, but was sure to point them out. He’s been really resisting questions lately, so I let them go. This seemed to work better.

 

Day 44: Flour Writing June 1, 2010

Filed under: colors,letters,sensory — Erin Brambilla @ 11:43 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Zach has been rather stubborn lately and does not want to be “taught”. Anytime I attempt to talk with him about what he is doing, or start a project, I am met with a refusal to continue to participate. This does not bode well for mommy blogging! I mean, doesn’t this 2-year-old know I’ve got an internet audience to please? Sheesh. So, today I thought I’d start with something I knew he’d like, sensory tubs,  and build around that. And it “kind of” worked.

I remembered a tutorial involving tracing letters in a tub of cornstarch. The cornstarch had been poured over some brightly colored cardboard. When the child traces the letters in the cornstarch, the color pops through and it’s like “magic”. So I decided to do a spin on that. Her tutorial calls for cardboard, markers and cornstarch. I did not have cardboard, shockingly. I only had a little bit of cornstarch. So, my improvisation involves a plastic tub, flour and construction paper.

Supplies:

Plastic tub, construction paper, flour, tape

I used colored construction paper folded up and placed in the tub, instead of coloring it as was shown in the tutorial, because I didn’t want to color my tub! So, I folded up the paper, placed it in the bottom of the tub and taped down.

Paper in the tub

Then I enlisted Zach to help me dump the flour into the tub.

Dump! Hey, look, the kid is wearing clothes today!

Then I took and patted and smoothed the flour down to make a clean surface to start out with. I traced the first line or two for Zach to see what happens. He thought it was pretty cool.

Flour spread out and patted down

Drawing lines in the flour to expose the colored paper

Drawing in the flour

After a while, he told me that his dinosaur was hungry. And that dinosaurs like to eat flour. So, the dinosaur had a little snack.

Unbeknownst to archaeologists the world over, T-Rex liked to eat All Purpose Flour

While he was busy using his imagination with his dinosaur, I thought I’d teach him to write the Letter D, for Dinosaur. So, I traced a letter D into the flour. And that’s when he was on to me. He did not want anything to do with a letter lesson. So, I thought maybe I’d ask him to help me dig for colors. I’d dig and brush the flour aside and say, “Oh my goodness! Look, I found a color! What color did I find???” and he wanted nothing to do with that either. Though he did ask me “What color flour is?”, which I thought was a pretty smart question, so I told him it was white. And then I just let him continue to play.

Eventually he spotted the tape I had set aside and asked for it. At first I told him no. And then I thought, “Why not?” I mean, we’re going for sensory, right, so why not talk about “sticky” (along with smooth and fluffy, but also gritty and grainy, when feeling the texture of flour and flour on paper, and taste..flour is edible). So I tore off a piece of tape or two and let him play with it. We saw how it was sticky at first, but not sticky any more once we stuck flour to the tape.

Sticky tape

Not sticky anymore

And that was pretty much the whole of our lesson. Yes, we did make a grand old mess doing this!

That's one flour covered little boy

I just love a messy face, even when that face refuses to smile for the camera

What did Zach learn today? To talk about the senses some more. About color. To look beneath the surface (whoa…deep). Imaginative play.

What did Mommy learn? That she needs to figure out how to get his attention again.

 

Day 38: Easter Eggs May 26, 2010

Say Wha??? Hold on, let me check my calendar.Yep. May 26th. Wednesday. NOT Easter. But why should Easter Sunday get to hog all the fun of these plastic little gems (that sit in my cupboard the other 364 days a year)?

I mean, look at what you can do with them.

You can put them in water and catch them with your net:

You can group them by color:

You can make them sink by pouring water into them:

You can push them around and roll them:

You can sit in a tiny tub of water like it’s a swimming pool and count them:

And you can even eat your lunch out of them:

Cherries

Carrots

Cheerios

I stopped at putting the peanut butter in the eggs, so it's on spoons

Cool, right?

See, no need to hold out for Easter!

What did Zach learn today? How fun using non everyday objects can be to do everyday things. And we talked about the principles of sinking or floating (and colors..again).

What did Mommy learn today? I think kids just don’t eat their veggies if they don’t want too. I’m losing this battle big time. I mean, I put the carrots IN and EASTER EGG. Fun, right? Nope. Not eaten. Those cherries were gone in 2 seconds though!

Also, I’ve been doing some sensory stuff with the babies. They got to feel soft and silky when I gave them some Lovies. And splashed in the water today too.

Emily and her Lovie

Isaac says, 'Grr...I'll eat you up Lovie!"

Chunky Isaac feet splashing in the water

Emily feet in the water

 

Day 34: Abacus May 23, 2010

Today I spent the day with some girlfriends at a teeny little store we like to call Ikea. OK, so it’s not so teeny. And it’s pretty much impossible to go there and not get sucked in for a good 4 hours. And besides carrying the world’s greatest selection of particle board and wood veneer furniture, Ikea also has an impressive display of educational, reasonably priced kids toys, like the wooden abacus I bought for Zach.

Zach's new "toy"

According to the New World Encyclopedia (whose website looks suspiciously like Wikipedia, so take this definition for what it’s worth), abaci have been “in use centuries before the adoption of the written Hindu-Arabic numeral system and is still widely used by merchants and clerks in China, Japan, Africa and elsewhere.” In other words, a really long time.

I basically bought it because I knew that Zach would have fun sliding and rolling the beads under his hands, so it’s a sensory toy. I also knew he’d like to count them. The beads are colorful, so I can use it to teach him colors. They are also grouped in 10’s, so we can learn to count by 10 (up to 100). It’s all sorts of usefulness. It also looks like part of the playscape at our local playground and Zach loves to play with that.

So, when I got home from the Ikea-fest, I unwrapped the abacus and put it in front of Zach. He took to it immediately. He slid the beads back and forth. He took the palm of his hand and spun them around (this made him laugh because it kind of tickles). He counted them one by one. And he even told ME the colors of some of the beads. Yellow and Green specifically. On his own. Yay Zach!

Moving the beads over one by one

No. We have STILL not painted that wall. It'll happen. Someday.

Of course, you know that we can’t do anything here without enlisting the help of the front loader and/or dump truck. Zach said, “Yellow tractor. Here tractor, yellow.” I assume the last yellow as for the beads. And then he made the tractor play with the abacus.

Tractor + Abacus = Fun

What did Zach learn today? The abacus was good for all kinds of things: sensory play, color learning, counting practice, imaginative play (with the tractor) and motor skills.

What did Mommy learn? Occasionally I hit the nail on the head in the toy department. And this is great for long-term use as he gets older and learns more math.