We’ve Moved!

Just a reminder that we’ve moved to a new domain. If you’re still following this page and haven’t visited our new site then you’re missing out on all the latest content!

Here’s what you’ve missed:

Age Appropriate Internet Search Settings, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
Age Appropriate Internet Searching

An Intro to Money Math, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
An Intro to Money Math

Autumn Sensory Bin 2013, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
Two Autumn Themed Sensory Bins

The Power of Yes, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
The Power of “Yes”

Painting in Shades, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
Painting with Shades

So come on over and follow us at our new site: www.suzyhomeschooler.com!

Fine Motor Play in Water – We’ve Moved!

Hello old followers and newcomers! We have moved to a new domain.
So if you’d like to know what this is about:
Mini Water Wall and Water Play, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
Then please stop by our new site!
Mini Water Wall and Water Play, Suzy Homeschooler (10)
To our old followers: thank you for following. We’re sorry for the inconvenience but in the long run this new site will allow us to give you more high quality content. Please stop by and give us a follow from the new site to continue receiving all our latest content.

*Our Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and email are still the same as they’ve always been.*

The Foot Book Sensory Bag

I’ve made sensory bags before and my children both really loved them. It is so easy to do, you just need a Ziploc baggie, some duct tape to reinforce the sides and seal it shut, dish soap or hair gel or similar to fill it, and sometimes some trinkets to toss inside. It is a fun, affordable, mess-free way of getting some sensory play in. Especially great for babies who have limitations on the types of sensory play they can engage in.
I saw this really cool idea to make a sight word sensory bag on Childhood 101. Perfect for LittleMan to practice his reading and still a fun sensory toy that SunnyGirl would enjoy. Unfortunately, mine did *NOT* turn out as well as the one I was inspired by. You should click on the above link and check out the original idea. Beautiful, right? And then there is mine…
The Foot Book Sensory Sight Word Bag, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
Not so pretty.

I decided to make mine with a The Foot Book theme. There are exactly 50 different words in Dr Seuss’s The Foot Book so I wrote each of those 50 words out in Sharpie marker on lamination paper and cut them out with rounded corners just like Childhood 101’s tutorial instructed me to do. I included each of them in the sight word bag. I also happened to have some foam feet on hand so I threw in a handful of those as well. So far, so good. But then I made my mistake.
The Foot Book Sensory Sight Word Bag, Suzy Homeschooler (2)
The bag  on Childhood 101 was sparkly and fun, it had sequins. I didn’t have any sequins on hand so I tossed in a bit of glitter instead. A bit too much glitter. So much glitter that it is very difficult to see the words beneath the glitter. Yikes.
The Foot Book Sensory Sight Word Bag, Suzy Homeschooler (3)
The lucky thing is, the kids both still love it. They like to put it on the floor and step on it to feel the cool gooey-ness through the bag on their toes. But for sight word practice, it is not so useful. Next time I make one of these I will refrain from the glitter bath.

Free Play with Literacy Manipulatives

Occasionally I like to lay out a variety of materials and let LittleMan pick what we do. When I do this the activities usually either fall into the math or the literacy category, I don’t like to mix numbers and letters at this stage.
Today I put together our set up outside so we could have room to run.
I didn’t bring out all of our literacy manipulative and activities, just about 1/3 of them. I thought too much would be overwhelming and would detract from experience.
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
Our alphabet mat hasn’t been used in a while so I thought I’d pull that out.
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (2)
I also brought out the LEGO brick letters.
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (3)
Our sight word ball made the cut as did a cookie sheet, dry erase marker, and some magnetic letters.
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (4)
Our salt tray, bee sight words, a swatter, and some seasonal read/build/write cards were made available.
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (5)
I also pulled our Boggle cubes, foam letters (above), and movable alphabet (below) though these were the only three things not used at all by LittleMan.
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (6)

He started off by asking me to spell out words for him while he jumped from letter to letter on his alphabet mat.
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (7)
When he tired of that, he used the LEGO bricks and magnetic alphabet to spell out some words he knew.
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (8)
Soon he asked me to take him across the street to play sight word catch, this activity was played with the longest.
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (10)
He ended our play with a single round of sight word smack, which is usually his favorite but today he seemed more interested in going inside for a snack (hence why we only played one round).
Literacy Free Play, Suzy Homeschooler (9)

Letting LittleMan take the lead this way often results in his best work. In an ideal world I’d have the time and space to do something similar everyday. For now, given certain limitations, I aim for once a week.

Risky Play is Necessary Play

Earlier this year LittleMan and I were fortunate enough to come across a fallen log on one of our nature walks. Our experiences exploring that log reminded me of a lovely post I had read weeks before about a group of children exploring a fallen log (Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes). Sandi, the author of Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes, and I have similar beliefs about risky play for children. We both encouraged the children in our care to do only what they personally felt safe doing.

LittleMan at first was tentative, though he became more confident with time. I said nothing and merely stood by observing as he worked.
The Benefits of Taking Risks, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
At one point LittleMan noticed a small bump in his path on the log so he dropped to his hands and knees to crawl across this part, only returning to a stand when he had reached the other side and his path was once again clear.
The Benefits of Taking Risks, Suzy Homeschooler (2)
Just see the look of triumph on his face when he had conquered this obstacle.

LittleMan didn’t personally feel comfortable jumping off the log and that is ok, but if he had felt comfortable jumping then that would have been ok too. I trust him to assess his own abilities and limitations.
Let the Children Play wrote an excellent post about the benefits of risky play which included this simple step-by-step of what we should be doing as we are approaching situations similar to this:

  • assessing the hazards involved
  • considering what we know about these children and their capabilities
  • trusting the children’s ability to make their own decisions about a particular risk
  • relinquishing control

I was hesitant to write about this subject and to share these images of my son engaged in risky play because the world we live generally does believe that children can never be too safe. People who speak out about the benefits of risky play for children are often regarded as “free range parenting extremists.”
I do not personally subscribe to any one parenting method. I’m not free-range parent because I support my son taking risks anymore than I am a helicopter parent because I choose homeschool. I don’t like labels and I don’t make parenting choices based on any particular method.
I read. I think. In the end I make evidenced based choices while also considering my family’s personal dynamic.

Of course we all want our children to be safe, but it is unfortunate that we are learning the hard way, there is such a thing as being too safe. Author Michael Ungar, Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today about how risk taking is necessary to build resilience. He even suggests that lack opportunity to take appropriate risks has caused children to take inappropriate, even more dangerous risks. In other words, the child who does not get to strap on a helmet and ride their bike down that steep hill may later be the child who says yes to underage drinking (for example).

Sure, I could link a bunch of articles and such which describe healthy risk-taking, like this one, but instead I’ll leave it at this:
I let my children take age-appropriate risks because I believe it is crucial in the long term that they develop the type of confidence that only comes from successfully overcoming obstacles as well as the type of confidence that only comes from getting back up after they have fallen down, both figuratively and literally.

Fairy Garden from Recyclables

We’ve had several fairy gardens this past summer. All of them in containers on our patio. All of them drown as soon as there was a decent rain. Seems to me that if you want a fairy garden to be able to survive a bit of wet weather then you need to supply it with either some coverage or to make your garden in the ground where the rain water will naturally seep away. I didn’t think it would be possible for us to have such a fairy garden in our current living situation.
Then I noticed our bushes looked like a tiny forest near to the ground. Unfortunately they were a bit messy. I always knew there were lots of dead leaves and a couple plastic baggies tangled in the branches but we generally just avoided the bush because we didn’t know what sort of wildlife might be under those piles of dead leaves. I decided that it was worth the risk to investigate further, perhaps if I found no snakes then this could be the perfect site for our fairy garden.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (2)
I didn’t find any snakes but I did find out that people are disgusting. Under those piles of dead leaves I found broken glass, cans, bottle caps, nails, screws, a rusty metal pipe, scrap wood, insulation, fast food containers- the list goes on. How have we been living with this 2 feet from our front door?! Our neighbors bushes look similar to ours, with what seems to be piles of dead leaves and a couple plastic baggies, but I doubt that there isn’t just as much disgusting stuff underneath theirs as well.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (16)
Once I had cleared out all the rubbish, things were looking much more promising. There is even a bit of a hill so when it rains, the water will flow downward, away from the fairy garden area.

After reading some recent news about the nasty effects human waste is having on wildlife, and after finding so much trash hidden under dead leaves on my own front stoop, I felt like doing a bit of repurposing.
I challenged myself to make the entire fairy garden using nothing from my craft closet. No craft sticks, no beads, no glitter, no pipe cleaners, no paint- only things that I would have around the house even if I wasn’t a crafter. Things from my kitchen, my closet, my holiday storage, and my tool box. This forced me to think outside the box and also to upcycle some things that I otherwise might not have thought to use.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
Total project cost: $0.

Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (17)
For the houses I used empty plastic spice jars. I cut doorways using a utility knife. The containers were translucent so I painted the interiors with nail polish to give them some color. The roofs were made by folding tiny pieces of tan duct tape into triangle-shaped shingles and applying one at a time then topped with a long thin strip of tan duct tape. Details such as door trim and windows were drawn on with Sharpie marker.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (18)
The stepping stones were simply pennies painted with nail polish.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (3)
The button trees were made from wire Christmas ornament hooks left over from last year and random buttons from old clothes.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
The storybook sign was made by writing in Sharpie on a set of bin-bound plastic file dividers then cutting them into arrow shapes and pinning them to straight stick with some push pins.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (5)
The swing was made by cutting a straw into three pieces and weaving them together with dental floss, then hung from a branch.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (6)
The gazing ball is a marble super glued onto an old marker cap.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (2)
The greenhouse was made of an old condiment container turned upside down with a doorway cut into the side.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (8)
If you remove the “glass” top then you’ll see a bountiful harvest within. The lid of the container has been lined with tan duct tape, there are 12 toothpicks with decorative green tops poked through the lid into the ground, and a drop of super glue on each one to help the green foil decor to stay put.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (4)
Near the green house is the water well. This was my greatest challenge. I wanted to make my well using clay as the base but because my clay was in the crafting closet, it was off-limits. I experimented with some styrofoam which had been used to line a box we recently received in the mail but it didn’t hold up very well. In the end I used a single piece of Starburst candy as the base. I simply stuck cut the toothpicks in half, stuck them into the Starburst, put a small rubber band around them, then coated the whole thing with clear nail polish. When that had dried I added two taller toothpicks to either side, balanced 1/3 of a toothpick on those, and tied a small acorn cap to it with some dental floss. A drop of super glue at various places for security and viola, done. I obviously buried the Starburst base in the dirt for aesthetic reasons.
I was nervous that the well would break the moment the children looked at it but was pleasantly surprised to see it looking just as good as ever after LittleMan had moved it around the garden a few times.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (7)
The tree house was made similar to how the other two houses were made, only I designed the tree house simpler in appearance. Generally speaking most tree houses aren’t as detailed as real houses. I followed all the same steps except that I didn’t paint the interior of the tree house, and I didn’t add the small decorative shingles to the roof. To mount the tree house to the branch, I made small holes in the floor and threaded a couple wire bread ties through then twisted them around the branches.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (21)
The ladder leading up to tree house is made of straws and dental floss weaved together. At the base of the ladder there are several tiny pinwheels. The pinwheels were made out of squares I cut from the same file dividers as the storybook sign was made from. I used more wire Christmas ornament hooks to hold the pin wheels and mount them into the ground. The pin wheels wouldn’t stay on the wire without some sort of stopper, luckily I found a pack of un-opened earrings in the back of my jewelry box. The earrings each had a tiny rubber stopper on the back. (I’m not big on jewelry, those earrings have probably been there since highschool a decade ago.) I used two of these rubber stoppers per pin wheel, one in back of the pin wheel and one in front.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (14)
I also made sun catchers out of the same set of file dividers as the storybook sign and pin wheels, then hung those sun catchers in various places around the fairy garden.
There is also a bunting, made from blue duct tape and dental floss, which hangs across the back of the entirety of the fairy garden area.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (11)
Lastly there is a small wind chime made from the plastic ring around the top of a milk jug and various metal objects (about half of which I actually found while cleaning out the bush), an old key, nuts, washers, bolts, a button, etc.. I don’t have a very good picture of the wind chime, every time I tried to take one SunnyGirl would jump in front of the camera. You can see it on the left side of some of these pictures but none of them are close-up.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (10)
Both of the children seem fairly pleased with their new fairy garden.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (13)
I’m pleased that there is much room for growth since there are so many things LittleMan and I have talked about making together: a zen garden, a soccer field, a pool, etc..
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (15)
LittleMan did help with the tree house and the button trees but for the most part so far everything has been made by me. I’ll be excited to see him taking a more active role in his fairy garden space.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (12)
It wasn’t very long after I declared the fairy garden inhabitable that the LEGO figures moved in.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (22)
At one point LittleMan moved all the stepping stones into a large circle and declared that the lake.
Fairy Garden, Suzy Homeschooler (20)
At another point he made a pile of dirt and called it Sandman. Kids can imagine all sorts of fun things from the most basic of mediums- a super villain from dirt, does it get any more creative than that?

Apartment Friendly Window Easel

Art is crucial to early childhood development. Art outside, in my opinion, is all the better. I had really hoped to create a large window easel but we just don’t have the space so re-thought my plans and realized that, besides being able to fit into our small space easier, a smaller easel would also require less work and less money. All I needed was a clear plastic sign holder similar to this (click).
Apartment-Friendly Outdoor Window-Easle (1)
I purchased mine for $4 from Walmart however I’ve since seen them for $1 at Dollar Tree.
Apartment-Friendly Outdoor Window-Easle (4)
The first time it was offered to him, LittleMan was intrigued by the prospect of being able to see through his art.
Apartment-Friendly Outdoor Window-Easle (5)
But after only 6 minutes he ran off to play soccer leaving the easel barely touched.
Apartment-Friendly Outdoor Window-Easle (13)
I thought we were done for the day and was about to clean it up but then SunnyGirl came up.
Apartment-Friendly Outdoor Window-Easle (22)
She proceeded to paint on this tiny easel for over 25 minutes!
Apartment-Friendly Outdoor Window-Easle (29)
Towards the end of her session she moved the easel onto the grass and abandoned the paint brush to use her fingers.
We have used the easel twice since this first session and each time both children seem quite pleased with it.

If you happen to have the time, money, and space available for a larger easel then I recommend these for inspiration:
Outdoor Easel from Fantastic Fun and Learning
DIY Window Easel from Teach Preschool
Easel (and other DIY sensory furniture) from Play at Home Mom

I am planning on up-grading to something slightly larger in the spring but for now this is working brilliantly and the children are both loving it.

Composting and The End of Harvest Theme Week

Our little pie pumpkin was starting to get a little soft around the stem so we decided it was time to give it the boot.
Harvest Theme Week (pt2) from Suzy Homeschooler - Dissecting a Pumpkin (1)
Before doing that, we put it to use one last time with a little pumpkin dissection.
Harvest Theme Week (pt2) from Suzy Homeschooler - Dissecting a Pumpkin (3)
This is our third pumpkin dissection this year and it has yet to be less than fun for the children and I.
After the pumpkin had been gutted and thoroughly examined, we decided to compost it.

Making your own compost is a great way to cut costs when you plant your spring garden as well as lessen (however slightly) the amount of stuff you send to the landfill.
LittleMan is no stranger to composting, he’s been helping me do it since he was SunnyGirl’s age. A couple years ago we did a little experiment making two small compost bins inside old soda bottles. One was made properly with green wastes, the other was made with general trash. Seeing the decomposing is a great visual for young children as well as a great conversation starter about recycling and waste.
Compost Experiment from Suzy Homeschooler
I was hoping to get some red wrigglers and make a worm compost this year but that just didn’t happen. Maybe next year.
Harvest Theme Week (pt2) from Suzy Homeschooler - Compost Bin (4)
I had been saving our green wastes for a couple weeks. We don’t get a newspaper so we ripped up a damaged cardboard box and a used coloring book instead. We had a spare 5 gallon bucket on hand to use for the bin and we also made a smaller version in an empty peanut butter jar with clear sides so LittleMan can again watch the process of decomposition.
Harvest Theme Week (pt2) from Suzy Homeschooler - Compost Bin (5)
As usual, I talked to LittleMan about where our wastes go and how we can lessen our wastes. I walked him through the pattern paper-food-dirt mist and repeat. I’m not sure why but he really gets a kick out of being allowed to handle yucky old food.
Harvest Theme Week (pt2) from Suzy Homeschooler - Compost Bin (7)
We’ll keep the 5 gallon bucket outside but the small jar will most likely find a home on our nature table where we can observe it easily everyday.
Harvest Theme Week (pt2) from Suzy Homeschooler - Compost Bin (10)

After helping me rip up all that cardboard and coloring pages, LittleMan’s hand was a bit tired but he still asked to do his read/build/write cards.
Harvest Theme Week (pt2) from Suzy Homeschooler - Reading & Writing (1)
After only two cards I encouraged him to lay off the fine motor activity for the rest of the day. Ripping cardboard can be killer on the wrists and I didn’t want him to strain himself.

We were both happy to see that a couple of his seeds from earlier in the week had begun to sprout.
Harvest Theme Week (pt2) from Suzy Homeschooler - Sprouting (2)

With harvest theme week coming to an end, our home seems to be filling with chatter about the container garden we will be planting in the spring.

Harvest Theme Week

We kicked off harvest theme week with some seed exploration. In the process of that, we made a point of not wrecking our seed packets by cutting the bottom corners to retrieve the seeds and we put a few seeds aside in small clear containers. We used these to create a sort of matching game.
Harvest Theme Week from Suzy Homeschooler - Seeds (1)
I laminated the seed packets for durability. Both the seed packets and the containers of seeds have been marked with a number for easy self-correction.
Harvest Theme Week from Suzy Homeschooler - Seeds (4)
LittleMan thought this was great fun and he was especially interested in charts on the back of each seed packet as well as the variety of seed shapes. We will most likely be using this set again (and possibly adding to it) during our flowers and gardening theme week in the spring.

When we did our original seed exploration we also made small note cards with the name of the plant on one side and a picture of the plant on the other. These note cards were stapled into a small homemade book. One by one, LittleMan copied the names of each plant into a safe search on the internet.
Harvest Theme Week from Suzy Homeschooler - Internet Research (8)
Together we read about the plants and I wrote some of what we read into the little book.
Harvest Theme Week from Suzy Homeschooler - Internet Research (12)
We found out all sorts of interesting things about the foods we eat everyday. For example, did you know that there is 5 calories in a cup of lettuce? Or that lettuce was first cultivated by the Ancient Egyptians?

Something both LittleMan and SunnyGirl both were able to participate in was the dissection of an apple.
Harvest Theme Week from Suzy Homeschooler - Dissecting Apples (1)
For obvious reasons, I was the only one allowed to handle the sharp knife, however both of the children enjoyed twisting the stem to separate it from the apple. Digging the seeds out of the apple was surprisingly an exercise of their fine motor muscles.
Harvest Theme Week from Suzy Homeschooler - Dissecting Apples (3)
The vocabulary cards that I used in this exercise were actually intended to be used on a read/build/write mat. You can find the free download for these cards (and many more) at Homeschool Creations.