Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – social distancing with littles

I tend to use field trips and excursions (and even errands!) quite liberally with the kids: as a way to break up a long day, cut through moodiness, provide structure, and create enjoyable and educational experiences. So being stuck at home all day, every day, has been a bit of a challenge – though I’m sure not nearly so much of a challenge as it is for parents accustomed to being away from the children most of the day. I’ve been aiming for one new or different activity each day to break up the routine, and we’ve been diving more deeply into some regular activities as well. For your inspiration, here are a few of the highlights!

  1. The Dome Tent: we have a climbing dome out back, and the boys helped me move it into the lawn and cover it with sheets (using chip clips!) to make a tent! The kids hung out in it, hung upside down in it, and hung in a swing from the center of it (I put the swing up after I took pictures, but it was Aubade’s favorite part). It needed more openings so the breeze could keep it cool in the sun, though 🙂
  1. Water (and mud): with a sprinkler and some pipes, the boys discovered how water pressure can force water up through a vertical pipe, how the water will seep out of any crack when two pipes are joined, and how to make the water spray everywhere by blocking part of the opening and thus increasing the pressure. They also filled their pipes with muds and pretended they were magic mud sticks.
  1. Custom Pancakes: We eat pancakes a lot, but we’ve been eating them even more recently, because I started making them look like letters (for Rondel), numbers (for Limerick), and cute animals (for Aubade)! I love when the kids eat pancakes because my recipe is 100% whole grain with no added sugar and a secret addition of some type of vegetable. These days we’ve been using up the frozen pumpkin and butternut squash from last summer’s harvest, but carrot is also good, as is a half and half blend of spinach and banana (for quite vibrantly green pancakes that are amazing with chocolate chips and walnuts mixed in!)
I’m lucky – the kids are quite forgiving of lumps and irregular shaped ears lol. Also it took me way too long to realize that if I shape the numbers and letters as mirror images I’ll be able to have the better-looking side of the pancake visible when they’re right way around on the plate. This batch would have the ugly bubbly side on top.
I was trying to make a cat, but Aubade was convinced it was a mouse…
  1. Lots and lots of reading! All the kids are starting to get excited about reading, and it makes more reading possible when I’m not the only one who can do it (my throat does get tired, and also now we can rotate who is listening so everyone gets a chance to not be just listening). Aubade has memorized Old Hat, New Hat by the Berensteins and likes to read it multiple times a day; Rondel puts so much expression into the words that it’s like listening to a dramatic audiobook with all the added nuance and humor he conveys; and Limerick is beginning to devour everything he sees with the craving of insatiable curiosity and an intensity bordering on perfectionism. We’ve spent hours just reading out loud to each other (I read the entire The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe just this week out loud to Rondel, just by way of example…)
  1. Uno: the boys very recently discovered the card game Uno and have been wanting to play it all day every day. I’ve been using it as an incentive, or to give rhythm to the day: I’ll play three games of Uno now, but then I’d like you to exercise your body before the next set of three, or exercise your mind with reading or with math. We talk about the importance of using our minds and bodies and stretching them to do hard things, and then break up those more challenging things with some fun and relaxing Uno games, and it seems to be working well for now.
  1. Leaf Rubbing: To get some outdoor time and for a unique art project, we took a walk around the block collecting interesting-looking leaves as we went. Our neighborhood is rather weedy, so we were able to get a wide variety of leaves while only pilfering a very few more cultivated plants reaching out over sidewalks 🙂 And of course we had some good leaves to use from our own plants also! Once we got back, we laid them out on the counter, covered them with plain printer paper, and rubbed crayons over the paper to generate the impression of the leaves below. Juniper wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, though it was still good, but the Hong Kong orchid and mallow leaves were stunning. And Rondel used black crayon over a longwise half of a wild arugula leaf to make something that resembled a jagged blade.
  1. Costumes: one day, we pulled down the box of old Halloween costumes and had fun dressing up and playing pretend as the various animals and conglomerate creations to be had there. Rondel loves his alligator outfit the most, while Aubade prefers to rotate through all the options (and her princess dresses) rather rapidly…

Between all these things and more (and I have more ideas stockpiled for the next idle moment!), we’ve managed to keep TV time to a minimum without getting cabin fever from being cooped up in the same place for so long. I’ll definitely be glad when the libraries and museums and zoos are open again, but I’m not going to jeopardize the health of my community over boredom or frustration. Instead, I’m going to treat it as an opportunity to creatively connect with my family even more than normal.

I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum today if you want to join the linkup! She’s posted a few times in the past week or so with helpful and humorous thoughts about isolation and quarantine (with two medically fragile kids, she’s been less complacent about it than a lot of people).

How have you been handling isolation or social distancing? Especially those of you without backyards or easy ways to get time outside, how have you managed to create a sustainable new rhythm of life?

Posted in fiction

Rondel’s imagination

Here in Arizona, an intrepid zoologist has discovered a new species of bear: the Gong bear.

The Gong bear lives in rocky places, preferably on granite, and is purely vegetarian – in fact, this bear will stand up on two feet to eat the leaves off of trees! Its digestive system isn’t equipped to handle meat, so it is limited to plants.

In contrast to the Wood bear, which prefers to live in cold wooded places (and thus is only found in small numbers in Arizona, mostly in the northern parts of the state), the Gong bear can only be found in Arizona as it is a dedicated desert dweller. Interestingly, while one might expect this bear to be light brown to blend in with its environment, it is white. One can only surmise that this coloring is the most heat-resistant – and that the Gong bear, as a large animal with no natural predators and as an herbivore with no need to stalk prey, is not evolutionarily pressured towards camouflage.

The Gong bear is an elusive creature, which is probably why no one had previously discovered it, but it is a noble and friendly animal and I hope we continue to learn more about it!

Posted in book lists, family life, musings

Charlotte’s Web

Fern loved Wilbur more than anything… Wilbur loved his milk, and he was never happier than when Fern was warming up a bottle for him. He would stand and gaze up at her with adoring eyes.

For the first few days of his life, Wilbur was allowed to live in a box near the stove in the pitch. Then, when Mrs. Arable complained, he was moved to a bigger box in the woodshed. At two weeks of age, he was moved outdoors. It was apple-blossom time, and the days were getting warmer. Mr. Arable fixed a small yard specially for Wilbur under an apple tree, and gave him a large wooden box full of straw, with a doorway cut in it so he could walk in and out as he pleased.

“Won’t he be cold at night?” asked Fern.

“No,” said her father. “You watch and see what he does.”

Carrying a bottle of milk, Fern sat down under the apple tree inside the yard. Wilbur ran to her and she held the bottle for him while he sucked. When he had finished the last drop, he grunted and walked sleepily into the box. Fern peered through the door. Wilbur was poking the straw with his snout. In a short time he had dug a tunnel in the straw. He crawled into the tunnel and disappeared from sight, completely covered with straw.

Rondel and I have begun reading Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, together, our first attempt at a legitimate chapter book. We’re proceeding slowly, at about one chapter a day, but already the story has captured his imagination.

He has commandeered Aubade’s pack and play to be his own little pig pen, where he can be alone and covered up with a blanket like Wilbur covers himself up with straw, but where his adoring and beloved friends (Fern in the book; Limerick and Aubade in reality; a mommy and baby bear in Limerick’s pretending) can sit and watch him through the mesh on the sides. Like Wilbur, he announces that he loves the bears “so much” because they love him and come visit him in his pig pen.

He was captivated by the tender and beautiful illustrations, courtesy of the one and only Garth Williams, of Fern holding Wilbur and feeding him from a bottle, and of Fern pushing Wilbur in a baby stroller with her doll. Wilbur’s special place in Fern’s heart, and the great love she gives to him and inspires from him in return, seem to make up his major impression of the book so far.

And for two consecutive nights now he has asked for me to move the pack and play into his bedroom so that he can sleep in there instead of in his bed, because, as he says “you are a little pig and this is your pig pen!” He can’t even stretch out all the way in there, which should serve as some indication of how absorbed he is by Wilbur’s world.

When a child’s imagination is so easily caught by a simple, gentle, well-told story, there is no need to be so anxious (as I often am, and as parents in general often are) about that child’s education and ability to learn. His mind is open and eager to learn, explore, create, and imagine – and new worlds, new information, and new friends to explain the world through their lives and adventures are only as far away as the pages of a good book.

Posted in family life

blossoming creativity: Rondel at almost-four

I have decided that Rondel’s current age (almost four) must be one of my favorites.

His energy levels are becoming more consistent even if he doesn’t nap; his clingy, angry, defiant moods are decreasing; his silliness is developing some sophistication; his conversation and presence are more often than not interesting and enjoyable; and, most of all, his imagination has exploded like a firework. This, I keep thinking, is how I imagined parenting a young child to be.

Pretty much anything can be a source of inspiration to him, but the books he reads have a large influence on his play. After reading The Magic School Bus In the Time of The Dinosaurs, he built a mother and baby Maiasaura (and deviated from the biological reality by having the baby nurse… what can I say, he’s used to mammalian norms 🙂 ). After reading The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body, he invented a game (the Body Game) where we move through the house between spaces that represent different parts of the human body – a blood vessel underneath a red blanket on the bunk bed, for instance, or the stomach under another blanket on the floor so we can have it mush us up like food. Then, of course, because he’s a three-year-old, we always have to end up getting pooped out into a potty with all the pillows and stuffies that are the “actual” poop.

Play that began as constructing a slide down the stairs with all the pillows from the beds turns into slides that bury people and then become mountains to climb back up. What started as the realization that Aubade’s crocheted blanket could be hooked onto the handle of the armoire door becomes a blanket bridge stretching from the armoire door (behind which is Grandma’s house) to the bedroom door, across which a monster truck carries our family from our house to Grandma’s house and back again, and into which is randomly stuck a bright orange toothbrush. Cups stacked up in the sink are rearranged to spray the water out in jets at various angles and the whole thing is proclaimed a volcano. Rondel bursting forth from beneath a blanket (after much preliminary rolling around) is also deemed the eruption of a volcano.

And every time we read Where the Wild Things Are, he has to have a monster at hand ready to read the story with us. Not wanting to shut down his imagination despite the onset of bedtime a few nights ago, I allowed him to build his monster to his complete satisfaction, helping him scour the house for the parts he needed.

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The folded front of the box is its mouth, and the links are legs connecting the feet (my shoes) to the head (the box). You can’t see, but inside the box more links are holding up a Slinky which is the digestive system of said monster 🙂 He was so proud of himself for designing and building it all by himself!

I absolutely love this creativity.

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.

disfordinosaur

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!

monsterbones

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

a little stegosaurus!

There’s a little stegosaurus running loose around here!

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(His tail still needs another row of plates but he can’t wait!)

He looks pretty friendly to me, and he’s definitely excited to see the moon still up in the morning sky.

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I mean, have you ever seen such a smily dinosaur?

I wouldn’t want to get spiked by that tail, though! Even friendly little stegosauruses can be fierce when they need to be.

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Someone remembered that stegosauruses walk on four legs!

Posted in family life

Rondel and role play

Rondel decided a few days ago that we are all different characters from Pixar’s Cars movie, and assigned us specific roles.

He, of course, is Lightning McQueen. Sometimes he will run through the house revving his engine, screeching his brakes, or crashing into things…

Limerick is Red the fire truck, at least in Rondel’s head – he doesn’t really get it.

My husband is Sally, I am Doc Hudson, and Rondel’s grandma, grandpa, and uncle are the Sheriff, The King, and Mater respectively.

It’s kind of funny because he won’t refer to us by any other names, and he’ll correct us rather emphatically if we refer to someone in the family by another name.

I was beginning to worry about this kind of imaginative play, wondering if the influence of the movie made his pretend play more rigid and less his own, when I remembered that I did exactly the same thing with the Cinderella movie when I was his age. My pretend play probably had even less complexity than his, since I didn’t have quite so many roles to assign and since I didn’t really ever deviate from the movie’s plot like Rondel will – and it didn’t hurt my creativity in the least. I was still wildly creating my own stories all through childhood (and indeed into adulthood).

So for now I will just enjoy being Doc Hudson and race with my Lightning all through the house!