Catching Up

When I took the third job at Sylvan late last fall, I no longer had any time to write about what I was doing with the kids. I kept taking pictures and posting stuff on pinterest, because that was easy, but it started to feel like I could choose between eating and sleeping and having time to reflect on my lessons. With $260 a month in student loan payments (and that’s after I paid off more than half of my total debt), I didn’t have much choice about working more hours.

The school year is pretty much wound down though, and now I have time to go through the photos and start writing. It might seem a little strange to read about our Chinese New Year activities in June, but stick with me, and we’ll get through everything and have a lot of fun doing it.

I’ve made a list of things to write about, but the posts will not be chronological.


on pinterest


The Birthday Gift

I got a Cricut Expression for my birthday last year. My mom thought it would be way cooler than using die-cuts, and so far, she’s been right. It’s a good thing I left all my yarn in storage, though, because this hobby takes up almost as much space.


I don’t want this to become a blog all about using the machine though. So my goal is that if I talk about a craft or activity we did where I cut shapes with the machine, I will have an alternative version that you can do without the machine.


This is definitely not a time-saving machine. Frequently I do little nitpicky things I wouldn’t even think about doing by hand, or make pieces and parts that I would just go to the craft store and buy.


Take this craft, the pizza plates. (Good for a pizza theme unit or for the letter P). Pizza Plates made with oregano paint


I cut out lots of tiny shapes to be the pepperoni, the olives, and the green peppers. I could probably have used foam shapes, or pompoms, bits of ribbon, or pipe cleaners, or any of a dozen other things I have in my classroom. The main idea with the pizza plates is that they are multi-sensory, so I mixed the paint with oregano in a cup before we painted it onto the plate. Use a thick brush so that you pick up the oregano and get it on the plate right with the paint.


The kids were pretty good at identifying the oregano as a pizza smell. “Yum!” said one little guy, rubbing his tummy. For me, a good project uses several senses and can inspire great conversation.

Celebrating Thanksgiving with Twos

Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday to teach toddlers about. We wanted to avoid the “first thanksgiving” myth. There was a harvest feast in Plymouth in 1621, but there was also a great deal of bloodshed between the pilgrims and their neighbors, the Wampanoags. There are some things I just would rather avoid entirely than sugar coat.

Instead, we focused on the food and family and thankfulness aspect of the holiday. We had two great books: Give Thanks for Each Day and Thanks for Thanksgiving. I also made up a little piggyback song.

Thanksgiving Song (to the tune of Frere Jacques)
We are thankful, we are thankful.
Yes we are! Yes we are!
For our friends and family, for our friends and family;
Near and far, near and far.

My teaching partner had dire memories of uneaten feasts in past years, so I suggested that we do a lighter, kid-friendly menu. The parents didn’t need to bring anything in, so there were no hurt feelings when the kids refused to eat laboriously prepared stuff.

Thanksgiving Feast Menu

  • Turkey Sandwiches:
    • White bread, butterball turkey slices, cheese singles.
    • Cut into interesting shapes with metal cookie cutters. (We had trains and dinosaurs.)
  • Corn Puffs
  • Capri Sun No Sugar Added Apple Juice
  • Turkey Cookies Ala Betty Crocker
    • Bake shapes at home, decorate at home.
    • Let kids assemble the parts at the feast.
Nothing like the pictures from Betty Crocker!

There was something almost every child wanted to eat, and one of them ate his neighbor’s untouched turkey sandwich.  They all loved the puffed corn, which is a much safer food choice for little eaters than popcorn.

My teaching partner made adorable bonnets and hats for them to wear, but I don’t have any photos of those that don’t show the children’s happy faces. You’ll just have to take my word that it was a really wonderful Thanksgiving.

The Bean Game

Entertaining my twos is way easier than entertaining the older kids. I snagged a bean from a sensory box the other day and started doing this activity with individual children in the class.

Put simply, grab a bean, a coin, pompom or something. Show the child both hands (palms up) with the bean in one. Close your hands slowly and ask, “Where’s the bean?” The child points to the hand you just closed, and you open it to show them. Then put your hands behind your back and switch the bean (or don’t) and ask again. You will get a lot of giggles when the answer is wrong, and a happy smile when it is right. 

There’s more than just easy entertainment going on here. The child is learning to make a prediction about where the bean is going to be, and that’s a really important part of the scientific method. Sometimes toddlers and preschoolers aren’t very happy when they make incorrect predictions, and the giggling and fun of the bean game teach that it’s fine to make predictions that are wrong – the game isn’t ruined and we keep on playing.

Decorated Bandannas

We made these for Halloween, but you can do them whenever. This is a fairly low cost project, particularly if you buy the bandannas in packages of ten.

You will need:
100% cotton bandannas in white
Crayons (Don’t be cheap. Buy Crayolas.)
An iron.
White paper towels.

Have the kids draw whatever they want on their bandannas. Make sure they understand that this is a project for crayons only. Markers will not work. I have a couple of simple line-drawing books for inspiration and examples. They should color heavily for better results.

Once they’ve finished with the bandannas, your job is to take them home and iron the wax off and the colors in. Put some old rags or towels on your ironing board to protect it. Put one bandanna on the board at a time, cover them with a few paper towels, and iron them on a high setting, without moisture. Some wax and possibly pigment will come off on the bandanna.

Once you’ve ironed each bandanna like this, you are done. Give them back to the kids.

Bandannas can be washed in cold water, and hung to dry. The colors might fade a bit, but the kids can just fill them in again, and ask an adult to redo the ironing stage.

Basically, what I learned was that regular crayons will work on 100% cotton. You do not need to pay extra for special crayons!! You could use this to make decorative pillows or bulletin board covers, or quilt squares. What else can you think of?

Halloween Pumpkins

Photo by Lori Herrin.

If you are carving pumpkins tonight or tomorrow night with your child, you may appreciate this inspired little story.

Pumpkin carving is a big favorite of my mother, but she and I are both not very fond of the scooping part of the task (I find it makes my hands burn and itch just enough to be maddening). We early on enlisted the help of my tiny little sister to do this part for us.

At first my mom dropped her spare change on the top of the gunk whenever Katie wasn’t looking. Then, as Katie became more enthusiastic in her digging, she’d slip it in quickly in deeper spots. To this day, Katie hates anything to do with food preparation, but the guts came out of that pumpkin like nobody’s business.

At some point, she must have asked my mother where the money in the pumpkin came from. “Oh,” my clever mom replied, “the farmer must have dropped his change on the ground when the pumpkin was little and then it grew around it.”

This answer satisfied her for a pretty long time, even when she realized that none of the other kids at school had any idea what she was talking about, or had pumpkins that produced several weeks worth of allowance.

If asked today, Katie no more resents the deception than she did the other “fun” traditional deceptions practiced by adults on children. In fact, she seems to remember it a little more fondly than the others for being so original.

If your child is hesitant to help with the pumpkin, feel free to try it out!

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