Posted in family life, musings

parenting a preschooler


When he is so upset about a broken cup that he can’t enjoy one of his favorite playgrounds…

When he asks “why?” in endless loops that don’t even make sense half the time and doesn’t even seem to listen to the answer…

When he wants to have long and challenging books read to him but gets distracted on every page by something different – and then cries if you stop reading…

When he wants help building his Duplos but gets frustrated if he isn’t doing it all by himself…

When he deliberately pushes the limits and disobeys in the “one finger across the line” sort of way…

When he is so big and sweetly thoughtful and fiercely independent…

When he is tired and whiny and just wants to snuggle…

When he is angry and unreasonable and tells me he’s going to break things and hit people…

When he laughs that crazy laugh that just about knocks him over…

When his mouth turns down in the frown that’s melted my heart since his infancy…

…then, it is up to me to remember that he is being three and a half years old, dealing with so much internal transition and growth, and adjusting to a new baby and my return to work, learning more about himself and the world every day. He is not an adult yet; he isn’t going to act like one, and it isn’t fair to expect it of him. What he needs is for me to love and accept him for who he is right now, and gently guide him as he grows into the fullness of who he will be.

Posted in family life

a boy and his sister

Rondel is head-over-heels in love with Aubade. She’s the first thing he talks about when he wakes up in the morning, and he comes looking for her all throughout the day to snuggle with her, hold her, or check on her – he’ll just sit next to her beaming.

Earlier today she was lying on the bed and he came up and was looking at her for a while, then asked me, “why is she so little and cute?” (He brings up her littleness all the time.)

“You really like how little she is, don’t you?” I asked him in return.

In response he ducked his head down, curled up for a second, then bounced on his bottom on the bed, all with the most adorable little shy smile on his face.

“Did you just bounce because you were so happy about how cute and little [Aubade] is?”

“I did!” – with the same sweet smile.

As he leaned over her again, she flashed a big smile in his general direction, and I pointed that out to him – and he got so excited that he bounced up and down again.

“Her smile made me bounce!” he exclaimed.

There’s not much sweeter than a baby’s smile, even in the eyes of a preschooler, apparently. And there’s not much sweeter to the eyes of this momma than a big brother who adores his baby sister so completely.

Posted in family life, Uncategorized


After discovering Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss, by sheer random luck at the library last week, and enjoying it on the basis of its story alone for several days, I told Rondel that oobleck was actually something we could make at home. I wasn’t sure if he would want to, but he spent the whole next day (while I was at work) telling my husband how he was going to get to make oobleck with Mommy, so at that point it was going to have to happen!

And happen it did:


Oobleck is, in its simplest form, a mixture of cornstarch and water. We added some food coloring to try to make it green like it is in the Dr. Seuss book, but we obviously should have added more! The proportions of the two ingredients have to be just right (approximately a 1:2 water:cornstarch ratio), but when they are, the mixture stops behaving like a liquid or a solid and becomes a non-Newtonian fluid. In other words, the way it responds is based on the force you apply. Let your hand sink down slowly into the bowl and it feels like water; try to pull your hand back out quickly and the substance instantly hardens around you. (For a good overview of the science, check out this article from Cornell).

I spent a lot of time just playing around with it on my own before I could convince the boys to touch it, but after they got over the initial weirdness of it they didn’t want to stop. Rondel in particular enjoyed the odd sensation of it and kept immersing his hands in and pulling them out again over and over and over. In fact, because our air is so dry, I had to keep adding water to the oobleck so he could keep playing with it as long as his interest held – which ended up being about an hour and a half, and would have been longer if we hadn’t desperately needed to put Limerick down for a nap.

Oobleck is definitely a messy activity. Because of the way it sticks to your skin, it’s not going to stay nicely contained in a mixing bowl! However, since it’s just cornstarch, it does hose off of everything fairly easily (much to my neighbors’ relief… the newly returned snowbirds aren’t used to the kids playing in the common area and were worried about the mess). It will also dry out your skin, so it might be good to have lotion on hand for after the clean-up. This was my first time playing with it as well, although I’ve read about it before, and I highly recommend it (and the book!) for both you and your kids!

Posted in book lists, family life, Uncategorized

books for the youngest dinosaur lovers

When Rondel fell in love with dinosaurs this fall (with Limerick close on his heels, as always), I was at a bit of a loss at first as to how to feed this love with good books. I spent a lot of time searching through recommended book lists online, as well as combing through the library catalog, and ended up bringing home quite a few of various genres, lengths, and reading levels. While I think that all of the books we ended up trying out were good books, some were definitely better than others for a young preschooler and a toddler! Two important aspects that stood out to me were quality illustrations and accurate but accessible information. In other words, mediocre art or dumbed-down language made a book annoying to me and, what mattered more, less captivating or engaging for the boys. Drawings that captured the wonder and drama of the dinosaurs could keep them riveted, and detailed information at an accessible level answered their questions and gave them a foundation for their own imaginative dinosaur play. All of the books we ended up truly loving had at least one if not both of these attributes.


D is for Dinosaur: A Prehistoric Alphabet, by Todd Chapman and Lita Judge

This book was one of the best. The alphabet format allowed it to move through a wide range of dinosaur topics (some pages focused on types of dinosaurs, others on specific species, others on basic scientific concepts, and still more on fossil discoveries and paleontologists) without becoming overly long and unwieldy. Each page had a short poem to go with the letter and a well-crafted illustration to accompany the poem, but the unexpected bonus on each page was the extensive sidebar of supplemental information. I never read a full sidebar to the boys, but I almost always grabbed one or two sentences from them to give them more information about the drawings (which were incredibly detailed and thus led to detailed questions from the boys). This book also spent some time on extinction and what happened to the dinosaurs, which helped Rondel understand why he couldn’t just go out and find some real dinosaurs!


Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil by Jacqui Bailey

This book tells the story of a dinosaur who comes to an untimely end, slowly fossilizes, and is eventually discovered and reassembled. The science is good (one section describes how bone turns into stone at a microscopic level!) and punctuated by humorous thought bubbles from the dinosaur himself; information is broken up into segments and sidebars so that the discerning adult reader can add more or less information and time to the story as is appropriate for the listeners’ attention span at the moment. Sometimes we read them all and sometimes we skipped most of them… But more than any other book we found, this book explained fossilization and described paleontology in a way that a very young child could understand and get excited about. And since it’s rather incomplete, at least in my opinion as a scientist, to just learn about dinosaurs without understanding how we’ve obtained that knowledge, this was an invaluable resource (not to mention that most other dinosaur books will just casually mention “dinosaur fossils” and expect the reader to know what that means). It was an enjoyable book for me to read aloud and surprisingly to me, since I thought it might be a few years beyond them still, it was enjoyable for the boys as well. They even asked for it at bedtime!

In addition to these books, we had a few Eyewitness/Atlas type of books that gave broad overviews of the dinosaur era; they weren’t the sort of thing we could read straight through, but they tended to have excellent illustrations and exposed the boys to the vast spectrum of dinosaur species that existed. We also borrowed the Wee Sing Dinosaurs CD from the library and Rondel begged for it every car ride to the point of tears… but while it was a huge success with him, it drove my husband absolutely crazy! The songs are cute but far from high musical quality, and they will be stuck in your head forever once you’ve heard them a few times…

The rest of the books we brought home were either over the boys’ heads or not really at the same level as the two above. I am looking forward to reading the Magic School Bus books with them when they’re older, as I loved them when I was a kid and the dinosaur one seemed quite good when I skimmed through it this time around, but so far the boys have very little interest in them. It would also be nice to find some decent dinosaur fiction! Rondel doesn’t need the storyline aspect to stay engaged, because the dinosaurs themselves are the draw and poorly done stories detract from that, but I would enjoy it and I believe Limerick would as well (and a book that appeals to both of them is always welcome).

So there is my very short list of excellent recommended books for the very young dinosaur lover! With these, some dinosaur atlases, and some dinosaur figurines (accurate ones of course!), you should be set. Even your one-year-old may go around saying things like “metriacanthosaurus” and correcting you if you don’t pronounce “parasaurolophus” correctly, and your three-year-old should be prepared for months of dinosaur pretend play involving such things as turning into a dinosaur fossil (by being buried under pillows and blankets for “millions of years”), hatching from a dinosaur egg, roaring like a giganotosaurus, being eaten by a T. rex, and ramming his head into everyone like a pachycephalosaurus. (Results not guaranteed).

Posted in family life

problem solving as a preschooler

Rondel’s always been a bit more of an abstract thinker than Limerick. You can explain something to him in terms of concepts and principles and he’ll get it, whereas Limerick will simply stare at you blankly until you end up just telling him what you do and do not want him to do in this situation right now. (This has been a huge help in dealing with his sensitivities, since he has the capacity to discuss them rationally and reason out ways to cope with them.) As he gets older, he’s been able to use this framework of concepts in his mind to network facts and ideas together and come up with some pretty creative solutions to problems.

Lately, one of the problems that’s been on his mind is Limerick’s chair. Limerick has a booster seat buckled to a kitchen chair, and has a tendency to push it away from the table with his feet while sitting in it, as well as to stand up in it if he’s not strapped in. Both of these things make me really nervous that he’s going to tip over, and so we’ve been talking about some different options for our kitchen dining area. Rondel’s been listening to these discussions and adding his own thoughts to the mix.

First, he noted that his own chair won’t tip over because there is a wall right behind it. So, he said, if Limerick sat in his chair and he sat in Limerick’s chair, Limerick wouldn’t be able to fall over and hit his head. But then he, Rondel, might fall over and hit his head! (Gesturing with his hands on his head and a sad face to accompany this statement). So that wouldn’t be a good solution.

A day or so later, he brought up the subject and suggested that we simply build a wall behind Limerick’s chair so that he would be protected from falling over in the same way that Rondel is. He showed me where the wall should be, and presented the idea as a fully logical solution to the problem – which I suppose it is, to someone who has no concept of the time or expense that goes into building a wall, not to mention the spatial ridiculousness of a wall in that location! But I was impressed that he had made the connection and come up with an idea.

I was even more impressed a few days later, when, I suppose unable to understand why his parents hadn’t yet build said wall, he told me that he was going to build a wall, using blocks, because “Blocks are especially good for building!” And a few minutes later, there behind Limerick’s chair was a little wall, and a very proud big brother wanting to show me what he had made:


I asked him if I could take a picture of it and he got so excited! I love his initiative in doing something to solve this problem instead of waiting for the grown-ups to fix it, as well as his ingenuity in coming up with a solution and figuring out how he could implement it with the resources he had on hand.

Posted in family life

Being three

Three is such an interesting age.

The three-year-old is developing his sense of self, expressing his own opinions, exercising his will, and pushing for the things he wants. The easy compliance of the 1.5-2.5 year-old child, who occasionally tests boundaries but in general finds happiness in doing the will of the parents with whom he’s deeply attached, fades away. And the (sometimes difficult) thing to remember is that this separation of the child’s self from the parent’s self, as expressed by defiance, disobedience, or a different of opinion, is a good and healthy thing: a necessary part of growing up and becoming an individual. It is good for a child to begin to ask why a certain behavior is prohibited while another is encouraged, so they can develop a conceptual of morality and ethics instead of thinking of right and wrong as no more than a list of arbitrary rules. It is good for a preschooler to begin to process and understand his own emotions and desires, as distinct from his parents’ emotions and desires, as a first step for perceiving and responding to the emotions and desires of other people.

(As a note on that last point, the 3-4 year old child does not yet have a true sense of empathy; they just haven’t learned to observe other people’s feelings and mirror those feelings back in a compassionate way. Neither the brain development nor the social maturity is there yet! This is the time to begin overtly teaching the principles of empathy, however, building on the foundation of emotional connection and unconditional love that we have hopefully laid during the first few years of life. Learning this information consoled me greatly after I observed Rondel and another little boy at church engaged in an angry shoving and spitting match…)

But while all this development is going on under the surface, it tends to manifest itself in a huge variety of behaviors. Pretend/imaginative play soars to a new dimension: Rondel, always a storyteller, has now taken to creating whole worlds in his play, with characters who persist from day to day and whose relationships and interactions mirror what he himself is learning about friendship and kindness (as well as whatever frustrations he may be feeling…). On the flip side, controlling behaviors can also escalate, as the child finally has definite opinions of his own about what is the correct way to play with a certain toy, for example, and lacks the empathy to understand that different people may enjoy different ways of playing with the toy in question. As their emotional perception grows, they see and understand when others are upset but usually can’t guess why, and aren’t sure how to respond to the emotions that may scare or confuse them. Rondel tends to lose his cool completely when Limerick starts crying about something, screaming at his brother to stop crying and please be happy again! The intensity of the emotion, coupled with his own inability to understand it or do anything about it, overwhelms him. But when he’s simply presented with sadness, minus the raw intensity, he genuinely wants to help and will come over to give hugs and kisses to the person identified as sad.

It’s difficult to deal with at times, because the three-year-old is changing so fast in so many ways, and acting out in response to those changes, but at the same time fascinating and exciting to watch that development take place! I also like to think it is giving me some practice for adolescence 😉