Friday, January 27, 2012

Interactive Learning Wall for Kids: Snowman

This is a great activity board for teaching children about
  • shapes (rectangle, circles, triangle, square)
  • sizes (biggest circle, smallest circle)
  • colours (choose colours for the buttons, hat and arms that you think the children need to learn)
  • counting (3 buttons)
  • emotions (turn mouth upside down to make a sad snowman)

    • 2 sheets of light blue Bristol Board
    • 1 sheet of white Bristol Board
    • orange, purple, brown and black construction paper (1-2 small sheets of each)
    • Velcro
    • clear plastic packing tape
    • scissors
    • pencil
    *You will also need to bring at least the first 2 items to a store for lamination, unless you have access to a large laminater. The rest of the items can be laminated on a small, personal-sized laminater, if you have one.

    *I apologize for the formatting issues I encountered while writing this particular post.

    Instructions - Part 1:
    1. On the white Bristol Board, draw 3 different sized circles for the snowman: one that is about 12.5 inches in diameter (across), one that is about 10.5 inches across, and one that is about 8.5 inches across. (You can likely find bowls in your kitchen that have approximately the same length of diameters. Turn them upside-down and trace around the edge for the perfect circle.)
    2. Cut the circles out.
    3. Draw and cut out of the black construction paper:

    - a rectangle that is about 10.5 inches by 1.5 inches
    - a square that is about 5.5 inches on each side
    - 2 small circles, about 1.5 inches in diameter (across)
    - a crescent shaped mouth, about 5.5 inches wide
    4. Cut 3 circles out of the purple construction paper that are about 2 inches in diameter.
    5. Cut 2 "stick arms" out of the brown construction paper that are about 9.5 inches long.
    6. Cut a triangle out of the orange construction paper that is no more than 3 inches on any side.
    7. Laminate all items, including the 2 pieces of blue Bristol Board.

    Instructions - Part 2:
    1. Using clear plastic packing tape, tape the 2 laminated sheets of blue Bristol Board horizontally to a wall, one directly on top of the other (make sure there is no space between them). The bottom sheet of Bristol Board should be taped as close to the bottom of the wall as possible, so that the little kiddies will easily be able to reach this activity board. Leave no edges of Bristol Board untaped, since little kiddies will find a way to take down the activity wall in no time!
    2. Cut 6 strips of the "soft" Velcro, that are each 5 inches long.

    3.      Measuring 8 inches from the bottom of the blue Bristol Board, stick 2 of these pieces horizontally, one on top of the other, to the blue Bristol Board.

    4.     Measuring 10.5 inches inches above the Velcro you have just stuck on, place the next 2 pieces of Velcro, in the same fashion.

    5.    Measuring 7.5 inches from this Velcro you have just stuck on, place the last two pieces of Velcro to the blue Bristol Board.

    6.    Cut out 2 pieces of Velcro (soft side) that are 2.5 inches long. Place one piece, horizontally, 3.5 inches  from the last Velcro you applied to the blue Bristol Board. Stick the second one, horizontally, 2.5 inches above this.

    7.    Cut out 2 pieces of Velcro (soft side) that are 2 inches long. Place them at a 45 degree angle, about 3 inches to the side of, and about 1 inch above the middle two (5 inch) strips of Velcro. 

    *Note the white Velcro in the middle of the circles.

    8.    Cut 6 strips of the "scratchy" side of the Velcro, that are each 5 inches long. Stick 2, horizontally, one on top of the other, to each of the 3 white circles.

    9.     Stick the 3 circles to the blue Bristol Board (largest on the bottom, smallest at the top).

    10.   Cut out 2 pieces of the scratchy side of the Velcro,  each 2.5 inches long. Stick one to the middle of the black rectangle, and the other to the middle of the black square.

    11.   Stick the black rectangle to the Velcro directly above the top white circle you have placed on the blue Bristol Board. Stick the black square to the Velcro directly above this.

    12.   Cut out two pieces of the scratchy-sided Velcro that are each 2 inches long. Stick them 2 inches from the end of the stick arms you want closest to the snowman's body. Attach the stick arms to each of the diagonal pieces of Velcro on the blue Bristol Board.

    13.   For the snowman's face, cut out four 1 inch strips of the soft side of the Velcro. Stick all four of these strips onto the smallest white circle: 2 where you'd like the eyes to be, one for the nose, and one for the mouth.

    14.   Cut out four 1 inch strips of the scratchy Velcro. Place one on each black circle eye, one on the orange triangle nose, and one on the crescent mouth. Stick the parts of the face on.

    15.    Cut 3 pieces of soft Velcro that are each 1.5 inches long. Place them in the middle circle of the snowman, where you'd like the buttons to go.

    16.    Cut 3 pieces of scratchy Velcro that are each 1.5 inches long, and place them on the 3 purple buttons for the snowman. Stick the buttons to the middle circle of the snowman.

    17.    Now that you're finished, let the kids play with the snowman, or use it to teach sizes, colours, shapes, numbers or emotions.

    Thursday, January 19, 2012

    Speech and Language: Speech Pronunciation Problems in Children

    My son has recently started speech therapy with "Toronto Preschool Speech and Language Services". I decided to get him on the waiting list for this program last summer. His intelligence and vocabulary at that time were both excellent (I have mommy bragging rights!), and his father and I never had any worries about that. It was simply that he has difficulty pronouncing quite a few consonants.

    I wasn't even sure if getting him assessed was something I should do. Many family members and friends thought I was just being an over-concerned parent. "Give it time", they said; "everything's fine". However, by the beginning of the summer, it was evident that Noah himself was becoming increasingly frustrated by his daycare friends' inability to understand him. When this happened, Noah would repeat the word or phrase, increasing his volume until he was shouting at his friends, exasperated, trying to get his point across. Luckily I can usually 'decode' him, so I was able to communicate for him to his friends. At this point though, I decided to let an expert decide whether he needed help or not. I figured it couldn't hurt, whereas not getting him the help could exacerbate or prolong the issue.

    I told my doctor about it during my son's next check-up, and she gave me the number for the Toronto Preschool Speech and Language Services. This is a free service, but I was informed the waiting list was long, and an initial assessment usually did not happen until 6 months after one got onto the list.

    Luckily, my son got an appointment within four months, due to a cancellation. After the assessment, the speech therapist told me that yes, he should be getting help for his pronunciation problems. She said it would be great to help him with his pronunciation before he starts kindergarten next fall. I had to agree.

    She gave me a sheet that charts out the ages when children are typically able to utter specific sounds. This is the main reason I write this post; to share this information with other parents. Just to officially give credit, the following information was provided by the "Toronto Preschool Speech and Language Services", and their information was adapted from "Helping Kids Discover and Develop Language" (afs).

    1.5 years - 3 years
    • p (as in "pear")
    • m (as in "more")
    • h (as in "home")
    • n (as in "no")

    1.5 - 3.5 years
    • w (as in "wall')

    1.5 - 4 years
    • b (as in "bath")

    2 - 4 years
    • k (as in "kitten")
    • g (as in "go")
    • d (as in doll)

    2 - 6 years
    • t (as in "toy")
    • ng (as in "sing")

    2.5 - 4 years
    • f (as in "fan")
    • y (as in "yello")

    3 - 6.5 years
    • s (as in "see")

    3 - 7.5 years
    • r (as in "ring")
    • l (as in "look")

    3.5 - 7 years
    • ch (as in "chair")
    • sh (as in "shoe")

    3.5 - 8 years
    • z (as in "zebra")

    4 - 7 years
    • j (as in "jump")

    3 - 8 years
    • v (as in "violin")

    4.5 - 7 years
    • th (as in "thumb")

    5 - 8 years
    • th (as in "other")

    6 -8.5 years
    • zh (as in measure)

    #speechproblemskids #speechdevelopment

    Monday, January 9, 2012

    Sick Days

    So, I'm going to take us way back, before the Christmas holidays, when all of us were sick: congestion, fever, aches and pains, coughs, snotty noses. It seemed like the flu, though Noah and I both had flu shots about a month before. Perhaps this was a different strain of the virus. Aidas developed an ear infection as well and by the time the photo above was taken, was on antibiotics. Noah looked terrible. In such a sick state, I wanted to ensure that he rested as much as possible. Instead of cancelling the daycare for the next 3 days, I decided to run a second-rate daycare. At least everyone was ill, so vegging out was a good idea for all of them. We did not go outside, and the T.V. was on most of the day. I shudder as I say this. We never watch T.V. while the daycare is running (apart from the 5 minutes our first arrival might catch a glimpse of in the morning). But this was one way to force everyone to rest, for the most part at least. I don't have a strict illness policy that forbids children to come when ill. I figure that by the time one child shows symptoms, we've all been exposed to the germs anyway. It's almost impossible to prevent the sharing of colds here.

    Anyway, we were all at least 75% better before the holidays, so that was a relief!

    Here are some of our other activities before the holidays (besides the crafts - we mostly did those on our sick days). The kids love making broccoli pizza, especially taste-testing the cheese!

    Oscar was to turn 1 year old over the holidays. We had a low-key, early celebration for him at the daycare, since we wouldn't see him for his birthday. His mother brought cupcakes for the kids and we sang to him. Afterwards, Noah and I gave him his birthday gift. I think he liked his new toys!

    One morning Noah and B. decorated a gingerbread house (store bought kit - I wasn't ambitious enough to try a homemade one). It was the perfect size for them to decorate, very small. We all enjoyed eating it over the next few days!

    The kids were entranced when I brought down the Menorah and told them about the 8 days of Hanukkah. We always sing the chorus of "The Hanukkah Song". Yes, the one by Adam Sandler. What?! It's catchy, and the kids love it!  

    As soon as I let the kids play with the Menorah, they incorporated it right into their vehicle crash scene. (Aidas is constantly creating these "crash scenes". I must capture with a photo one of these days how extreme a scenario he can envision.) 

    We have really lucked out with the weather so far this winter. One day (still before the holidays) we decided to play in High Park. I thought maybe we would run around the little forest area, but of course the kids could see the playground in the distance and wanted to go. It was mild enough that I couldn't deny them! 

    Since we have been back from holidays, we have resumed the self-help skill of getting dressed/undressed. I am expecting the older boys to undress and dress themselves for the potty, and also to put on and take off their snow pants, boots and coats. This doesn't mean that I don't help them when they need it, but they at least need to be putting in a solid effort. They need to be involved. I'm very proud of how far they've all come with these dressing skills. I think they surprise themselves much of the time too.

    Aidas will sometimes complain and say "I can't, I can't" while doing part of the dressing routine. Then suddenly, he will have already done it. He'll look at me, pleasantly surprised, and I'll say "Wait a minute, you did do it!" He usually laughs at this point, although there have been times when he will become frustrated with this outcome, and undo what he has done so that he will remain right in his insistence that  he cannot do it. Ah, the 3-year-old mind set. :)

    B. has taught himself to zip up his coat. Can you believe it?! I wouldn't even try teaching this so early, since it seems so hard. Now that he has inspired me, I am at least giving the others the idea of how to do it, and getting them to do small parts. These kids all have such unique strengths, and a lot to teach each other (and me, of course).

    The kids love to play pretend when we're outside. Here we're playing "restaurant". (Noah usually calls the restaurant McDonalds, but sometimes it's Swiss Chalet.)

    The service seems to be exceptionally fast at this restaurant. The server is practically psychic, and already has Aidas's meal ready before he orders it!

    B. has a great imagination and often tells us about the animals or objects he "sees" in various clouds. One day he told us he saw a butterfly, and brought our attention to this shape in a rock. I'd have to agree with him, wouldn't you? Another day he was playing with the stick you see in the picture below and calling it a spider. What wonderful creativity! (By the way, that's the scariest spider I have ever seen!).

    We hadn't done finger painting in a while, so the kids were excited about it when we did it this week. They each completed at least four paintings, though you can see in this video that it takes Noah a little while to warm up.

    Finally he gets used to the texture and away he goes! Aidas always just dives right in. (Actually, it was while he was trying to finger paint with a little spilled milk on the table at lunch one day that I realized it was time to get the paints out!) I love hearing them talk about their art!

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    Royal Icing Makes Kids Cookie Decorating Easy

    Over the holidays, I made some festive-shaped gingerbread cookies. Noah and I decorated them together on Christmas Eve day. This is definitely an activity you should undertake with your child. It is so fun, it's guaranteed to bring out the kid in you!

    Years ago, I made and decorated cookies to give to colleagues at Christmas time. I packaged each large cookie individually in a clear treat bag, and brought them to the school I worked at to hand them out with my Christmas cards. They didn't look so pretty by the time I handed them out, since the icing melted onto the bags. This time I was determined to correct this problem.

    I looked online to find out how to dry icing. Apparently the only solution is something called "Royal Icing". It is the only icing that dries, or hardens. It is very simple to make. You can make it with raw egg whites, but this poses a very small risk of Salmonella (food poisoning). I did not wish to give the gift of Salmonella to anyone for Christmas, so I decided to do it the safer way, by substituting meringue powder.

    By far, the most difficult part of making Royal Icing using meringue powder is....finding meringue powder. You won't find it at your local grocery store, since it is an item not commonly needed for baking. I've heard of some people ordering it online, but I decided to go to a specialty cake shop in Etobicoke called McCall's. (Here is their website, but be warned that it is not the easiest place to drive to. The good news is, you can buy a tub of this stuff, and it will keep for about 2 years.

    Royal Icing Recipe

    • 2 and 1/4 cups of icing sugar
    • 2 tbsp meringue powder
    • 1/4 cup water
    Mix these 3 ingredients together. I was too lazy to get the mixer out, and it still turned out great just using a spoon to mix it up. Just make sure you blend it well. If it's too runny, add some icing sugar. If it's too dry, add a bit of water.

    Cookie Decorating

    Dip the front of a cookie into the icing bowl, making sure to cover the entire front in icing. (You can tilt the cookie, right-side up, after dipping it, so that the icing slowly runs to the edges that are not yet covered.)

    Cover the icing with your favourite sprinkles. 

    You could also write, draw, or colour on the cookies using decorative icing tubes in different colours. If you do this, it's probably better to let the Royal Icing dry for a few hours first, if you really care about the aesthetics. Noah and I just couldn't wait! 

    #cookiedecorating #cookieicing

    Sunday, January 1, 2012

    Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic (at Rogers Centre)

    Dan and I bought tickets to Disney on Ice as part of Noah's Christmas present. Noah has always loved Mickey Mouse and anything Disney. (His favourite Disney movie is Lion King). We splurged for front row tickets, to make sure we could see all the action clearly.

    Now, having been there and seen the seating, I would say that there were plenty of other seats that provide just as good a view for less money. Any of the "stadium" seats would be great, since they are leveled. The only seats I would not choose would be anything other than the first row in the VIP section (which is where we were) or anything other than the first row the Field section. Since the rows are not leveled in these sections, your child could have trouble seeing over an adult sitting in front of him.

    The show was fantastic. Besides the obvious favourites like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy (no Pluto, sorry), much of the performance included characters from various Disney Movies. There was one segment that included the heroines: Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Snow White (and probably some others that escape me now).

    Dan and I were both pleasantly surprised that the skating itself was actually very good. Let's face it, they could have easily gotten away with mediocre skaters. The kids would be more than satisfied with the characters in costumes, even if they didn't do anything fancy. But there was such skillful skating that I found myself constantly saying "wow!". 

    The best part of the show for me (and I think for Noah as well) was the "It's a Small World After All" number. It was magical with lights, fireworks (very minor), and Mickey in in a pretend hot air balloon. 

    Another part of the show I thought was great was when they performed the "Mickey Mouse March", and invited everyone to stand up and march or dance to the song with them. I think Noah felt special to be dancing with his favourite Disney characters, especially in such close proximity!

    Other musical numbers featured characters from Disney movies like: The Lion King, Pinocchio, Mulan, Pocahontas, Toy Story, Aladdin, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo.

    The length of the show was optimal for children; about an hour and 45 minutes, with a short intermission. Honestly, I have trouble finding anything critical to say about our experience. Perhaps the time dedicated to Mulan was a little long, but that opinion is purely due to the fact that I'm not as familiar with it as I am the other Disney movies. 

    If we go to see Disney on Ice next winter, I think I would want to get the same seating as this time for one very important reason. At the end of the show, Noah was able to shake hands, or give high fives to some of his favourite Disney characters. To me, that is totally worth the extra money. (We paid close to $100 for each of the adult tickets.)  

    Still, my review for this particular show, considering what we paid, is that it was excellent. I would completely recommend it, if your child loves Disney.