Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pesach Theme: Baby Moshe and Baby Brothers!

In case you missed our recent announcement, we have a new playmate in our playroom! With gratitude to G-d, we welcomed home a new baby brother into our family on Tuesday, March 27. You can read more about it here. As we moved through our home preschool activities over the last several weeks, I was mindful to include some play-based activities that would help to set the stage for our new addition. My older son went through a variety of phases of understanding what would happen before it happened and has continued to go through a variety of adjustment phases to what has happened now that we are a family of four. For a seemingly very long time when I was pregnant, if I told my toddler there was a baby in mommy's belly, he would smile and say "Nooooo!" in disbelief! (After all, in his mind, how could a baby get into his mommy's belly?!) One day, his response altogether changed and he announced that he wanted a baby sister. I explained that it might be a baby sister or it might be a baby brother (I had a feeling it was the latter although we did not know for sure). By the next week, he walked out of his bedroom one morning sticking his tummy way out and announced that he had a baby brother or sister in his belly!
Playing about taking care of babies helped open the dialogue to what babies are like and bring forth concerns my toddler had and questions. Having his own baby dolls also provides a great alternative for activities he wants to try with our sleeping baby that might not be so safe or ideal for the moment. In related news, his baby dolls are getting lots of walks in the toy stroller and plenty of bottles and pretend food from the kitchen set!

In addition to dramatic play, we also read books, watched videos, sang songs and lullabies together, looked at baby pictures of my toddler as a baby and did plenty of talking and question answering as the topic came up. 

We checked books out of the library. We played with dolls and sang fingerplays about babies. We went on a special Mommy and Me date to the bookstore and bought some books about new babies and big brothers. We watched a lot of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood--particularly the episode about his new baby sister. We talked a lot as we played about the upcoming changes and how my toddler was feeling about it. He had one major concern and that was how nervous crying made him. We made, decorated and laminated a list of things we could do if/when the new baby would cry. The morning before I went into labor, my husband took my toddler on a special day trip to Maryland to get food for Pesach and I had a sudden nesting urge to set up our playroom again! Maybe all that shlepping up and down the stairs would help get a move on things... Well, good thing it was just a day trip and that our playroom was ready to go. That night my water broke and the next morning, we left for the hospital.

Our 10 Plagues Sensory Bottles have been a favorite Pesach material since I first made the set 2 years ago. This year, we purchased this great Kid Craft Passover Set for dramatic play.

My toddler LOVES reading back through this photo book we put together last year before Pesach. We acted out, photographed and told the story of our family preparing for Pesach in the style of his favorite Shabbos book Is It Shabbos Yet? by Ellen Emerman. He loves seeing symbols and traditions of Pesach in the photographs as well looking back on how much he has grown in the last year! I think it also feels extra special right now to have a book all about him now that he is sharing the stage with a baby brother!

Brotherhood has been developing at a rapid pace here. All of the stages of coming to terms with our newest family member that I thought would take a few months to set in began right away. My toddler is very verbal and for this I am glad (even if my heart breaks just a little bit to hear his strong emotions). He loves his baby brother (this I know will also change and fluctuate). He is very anxious and fearful of doctors and medical environments, so visiting the hospital was a mixed bag. He liked to see me; he missed me, but the influx of stethoscope toting medical staff really triggered him. I had an emergency c-section after many hours of pushing and a baby that was a wee bit too big to make his grand exit in that direction. He was nervous about the "boo boo on Mommy's belly." The first time my bigger boy heard my baby boy cry, they both went straight for self soothing in identical finger sucking! The evening after I gave birth, my son and husband were about to attend a friend's 3rd birthday party when my toddler broke down crying in his Tatty's lap for 45 minutes. He sobbed and sobbed and said "baby scary" and "Shimmy sorry" (he'd had a lot of strong emotions that day), and "Tatty still love Shimmy." As much as these words put a palpable lump in my throat, I also know his talking about it is how he works through it and makes room to move forward. I'm so proud of him for how hard he is working as we all settle into our journey toward a new normal. And one of the greatest gifts of all has been our home preschool experience as a whole. It has provided us with routines that can happen at any time of day, a way to connect when we feel a little disconnected, and foremost, his ability to explore and cope through play has really supported him through this transition. We've also been mindful to have opportunities for one on one time with each parent and welcomed the help of a great babysitter to be a neutral friend to play with so there's less of that feeling of being ping-ponged back and forth all day.
There is plenty to celebrate and one of those things is this guy becoming a big brother! We've used language to describe the baby as "his baby" as well as ours, and made a lot of the joy and celebration at home and in our community about him and his new role as big brother.

It is only fitting that the Pesach story begins with Moshe (Moses) as a baby! Playing and learning about babies and adjusting to one in our home is a great supplement to our theme. While our homeschool activities are no where near structured and organized right now with the major change in our home, a holiday coming up and my recovery process, it is nice to be able to reach for a simple craft, grab a book off our shelf, sing a few songs or just play with our themed toys and materials as we prepare for Pesach. The most important thing right now is for our family to go with the flow and move at a pace that works for all four of us. There is plenty of learning going on nonetheless! The simple, yet familiar songs and activities that have guided us through our homeschool year so far are the very ones that bring my toddler the most comfort as he grows to embrace our newest homeschool student in the classroom/playroom.
There's plenty of time right now for self-led independent play. He spends a lot of time enjoying his favorite toys and playing next to his baby brother and sometimes enjoys to play and interact with his baby brother, who right now (thank G-d) spends a good part of the day sleeping!

We are going through the story of Pesach very slowly and bit by bit using some children's books (and Mommy editing to make it age-appropriate). This fun Baby Moshe craft incorporated the fine motor skills of lacing and cutting/gluing and was a fun way to make a seasonal decoration for our house as we prepare for the upcoming holiday!

Friday, March 24, 2017

We Have an Addition to Our Playroom...

We have been on a bit of a hiatus from posting, and here's why! With gratitude to G-d, we welcomed our newest playmate, Baby Brother into the home on March 21, 2017 at 12:19AM weighing in at 8lbs and 2oz. You can read more about it here. We're all adjusting at home and settling into our new family structure. We'll be back to posting soon and until then...

Happy Playing!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Playing About Purim: Part 4

Purim is just around the corner! There is a lot of activity that precedes the holiday as we pack up shalach manos (gifts of food), prepare our costumes and, this year, get ready for Shabbat as well. Once the holiday begins, there are four very special mitzvos we must do:

1. Hear the Megillah (Book of Esther) read two times
2. Give matanos le'evyonim (extra charity to those in need)
3. Give shalach manos (gifts of food) 
4. Eat a seuda (festive meal)

We used some great books, posters and visual aids like the one pictured to the right to teach our son about the four mitzvos of Purim. The very best way he will learn about them, however, is by practicing, playing about them and actually doing them! One mitzvah my son is most excited about is giving shalach manos to his friends. The mitzvah itself requires a person to give at least one gift of two types of ready-to-eat foods to another Jew. Many families get really into this mitzvah and give quite elaborate and creative packages. Needless to say, there are a lot of treats and sweets this time of year!

My husband and I were up a bit late last night putting together the bulk of our outgoing shalach manos.
Table Time this morning was an empty bag just for my little one and some extra stickers for decorating it! Now that he's napping, I have stashed some special Purim treats inside for him to open on Purim day...

He has been so excited to pack up and give shalach manos and was very eager this morning to take a trip with me to pick out a basket and some treats to go inside of it for his Tatty. He first chose a bright pink wicker basket (which I am SURE my husband would love!) and then saw this one that looked like a soccer ball! We perused the aisles looking for foods with a kosher symbol to put inside. We picked out some foods that are "sometimes snacks" or "treats" and some healthier options as well. With so much nosh this time of year, moderation can be a hard standard to maintain. We try to balance the fun and novelty of a holiday that comes just once a year with our responsibility to simultaneously make sure no one ends up with an awful belly ache. When we got home, I set out a sorting and packing activity in our "Shalach Manos Shoppe." The shop had three posters depicting three types of foods (over which 3 different brachos (blessings) would be made). He got right to shopping and packing, filling the basket with some sweets, dried fruits, fresh fruits, sparkling cider and, of course, a hamentash! He is so eager to give it to his Tatty that I doubt if he will be able to wait for Purim to begin after Shabbos...

When we had finished, he really wanted to do more. Initially I had thought I would involve him the packing process of all our shalach manos and then I thought twice about how it might go to have a table strewn with candy, cookies, snacks, and juice that are not all for him and not all for right now... I opted in the end to offer him the opportunity to decorate his very own shalach manos bag and to fulfill the mitzvah by packing one just for his Tatty. I decided a play activity would be a great way to allow him the opportunity to continue working in our Shalach Manos Shoppe and set out a selection of foods from his kitchen set in the sorting center along with a basket to fill. He had a lot of fun playing and traveling back and forth between his kitchen area and the table to gather more items, empty and fill the basket again.

This is such a fun and festive time of year! We've had a lot of fun learning and playing here and there is surely more to come with such a big weekend ahead. And just as soon as the rattling of graggers and sugar high hangovers pass by, it will be time to start preparing for Pesach. It surely is a busy time and, as such, we will likely be making space and time to slow down the routine a bit and play through our preparations. In that merit, wishing all who observe it a Good Shabbos and Freilichen Purim and, of course, happy playing!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Playing About Purim: Part 3

Excitement about Purim is definitely building here as we count down the days and sleeps until the holiday begins after Shabbat this week. My son is already so excited to hear the Megillah on Saturday night and to deliver shalach manos on Sunday. He spends a good part of his days in some semblance of a costume, cheerfully singing Purim songs and playing along with his graggers and toy instruments. (My house is anything but quiet right now and it appears we may be raising a young Ringo Starr!) As we are counting down, it seemed only fitting to include some activities into our learning and play routine that involve counting!

One of my son's favorite Purim books for the last two years has been One, Two, Three Purim! by Naomi Shulman, illustrated by Nora Hilb. This was a book we received through PJLibrary when a couple of years ago and through it's adorable illustrations and simple, repetitive text, it captures the main mitzvos and customs of the Purim holiday in a way young children can really grasp and appreciate. I honestly think my son knows more about what to expect on Purim because of this little board book than any of the other ways we have taught him! PJLibrary's website also offers some great articles and ideas of ways to celebrate Purim in your home.

Counting has been a favorite activity of my son's for quite some time. So often these days as we are eating a snack or climbing stairs or even walking through the neighborhood, he will stop to say "Mommy, let's count!" And together we will count his pretzels or the steps as we climb or the number of trucks we see parked on the street. His verbal/auditory awareness of counting are ahead of the game of his numeric recognition and one-to-one correspondence for now, but since he does show an interest in such activities, I include math materials in our play area for him to explore and manipulate. I work with him on these activities and we play as long as he is interested. I do not push beyond that point--he has PLENTY of time to gain math skills as he grows!
He enjoyed sitting together with this material I created using a page of this great free printable Purim activity pack. With young learners like my son, it's helpful to show them the hamentaschen in the baskets and that this is what we are counting! A large felt rectangle makes for the perfect work space when you laminate each part and add a dot of Velcro to the back. Older learners can use materials like this more independently and they are great for quiet times!

After we finished working with the previous activity, he wanted to do more counting! I pulled out our tray of Counting Crowns for some hands on practice with one-to-one-correspondence. Recognizing written numerals and even quantities of dots can be still challenging for early learners. Manipulating small parts (like these glass gems from the Dollar Tree) helps them really get a feel for each number as they count. Including multiple sensory areas in a learning activity (like the fine motor/touch, visual recognition, auditory/verbal skills called upon in this material) helps to address all styles of learning as a child works to develop a skill. As an added bonus, anything shiny and treasure-like is a big hit right now with this little guy!

Songs and music are also a great way to reinforce key concepts of the holiday. My son is especially fond of singing the popular Hebrew song, Chag Purim. He likes to sing it in both Hebrew and English! Some of the songs we sing together are older, traditional songs and others are newer ones. One song he particularly likes is this one:

t.t.t.o. "Bingo Was His Name-O"
There is a special holiday
And Purim is it's name, oh!
P-U-R-I-M, P-U-R-I-M, P-U-R-I-M
And Purim is it's name, oh!

He especially enjoys it because it's the exact tune I've used to teach him the spelling of his own name and he also loved using magnet letters on his easel to go through the song. He really got a kick out of me hiding one more letter each time we sang until all of them were gone and then putting them back in order at the end! We used a plastic magic wand from his dress up to point to the letters as we sang and I was actually quite impressed with his letter recognition at this point.

Speaking of letters, it was time to learn another new one this week, and the letter Pp is a perfect candidate. We got out the glue and some small pom-poms for this project:
And speaking of things we love that begin with the letter Pp, we hadn't made playdough in a while! I set out the step stool for this kitchen activity and invited my son to join me in pouring in ingredients and carefully stirring our favorite stove-top playdough recipe.
He loves hindering helping in the kitchen these days! It takes an added dose of patience (and sometimes clean-up), so I try to see it an investment plan that he will be able to do things more independently as he gets older and be as useful in a kitchen as my husband is (who does more than half of the cooking here right now) when he grows up!

Welcome to our Playdough Hamentaschen Bakery! Our finished playdough, some round cookie cutters, a rolling pin and pom-poms for "jelly" made the perfect accessories to this activity and I think having a hand in making the playdough added to his enjoyment of the experience at large.

As always, play is a huge part of our process right now. This orange scented "Persian Rice" Purim themed sensory bin has been a real winner here. He seems to find some new way to play and explore in it each time we get it out! On this occasion, he was using the small plastic goblets to "make kiddush" and the tiny spoon and tea set to practice transferring the rice. During other play sessions, he enjoys engaging in dramatic play with the horses and "feeding them" or dressing up in the costume jewelry!

With just a few days left until Purim begins, it's time to pack up our shalach manos for delivery. Join us next time for a peek into our Shalach Manos Shoppe! Until then...
Table Time on this particular morning was an Invitation to Decorate Masks. He loved gluing on a variety of sequins, rhinestones and pom-poms--and as you can see, costumes are a big part of our holiday fun!

Happy Playing!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

In Praise of Play: Play Is Enough

"Play is enough. Play is enough. Play is enough. This should be our educational mantra for the first 5 years." are the powerful words of a preschool director as relayed to author Janet Lansbury in this article I came across last week. The article, posted 5 years ago, is still so relevant today. It asks a question I found myself asking more and more as I worked with young children over the years: have our preschoolers forgotten how to play? And although the article targets that particular age range (from birth until 5), I would say that a major decline in play opportunity and subsequent decline in play skills is a systemic problem that goes way beyond the age of five. Our need to for unguided and unadulterated play is one that certainly is vital to meet in the first five years, but must be maintained throughout life. This belief is one that led me to begin this blog, which certainly has a heavy focus on my home-preschooling adventures with a very curious toddler, but also leans heavily toward the side of doing so through meaningful guided activities and plenty of open-ended play opportunities. My very first post on this blog discusses in more depth my thoughts behind the decline in play opportunities for children both in the early childhood classroom as well as at home. It is a topic near and dear to my own playful heart. In my years of teaching and more recent years of parenting, I have adopted and adapted a lot of models. There are benefits to many styles of teaching and parenting. However, I remain devoted to my own eclectic and ever-changing model: if it works, do it! If and when it stops working, try something different.

This was the scene about 15 minutes before Shabbat last Friday. My husband was busy washing the last few dishes when my son came into the kitchen for several cups of water. He was not nearly as thirsty as my husband had assumed. He just apparently had his own sink of dishes to wash--and now his kitchen set is very clean! It certainly was a soggy surprise to his outsmarted parents, but a towel to dry it up with and a dose of humor got everyone through; play happens!

If you follow this blog at all, you see a lot of posts and photos about our guided learning experiences. I do include in that a portion of our dramatic play opportunities and there is certainly an element of playfulness to even our more "academic" activities. It may look at times like I spend a good chunk of every day engaged in this way with my son and the honest truth is that I do not! We have days on which we do a lot of structured activities. We have days when we are mostly out of the house. And we have days on which I am mostly bound to other tasks or even the couch and my son plays mostly independently with periods of my involvement. We are looking forward as a family to some very big and exciting upcoming changes right now and it is definitely a busy time! Because I love to plan for what I can (especially with so many elements that cannot be planned in advance), I set up our units on Purim and Pesach to be very play-based and toddler-accessible for independent use. The intent and idea behind that is that my son can have an opportunity to learn through hands-on self-directed play whether or not I am available to "formally" direct it or be involved.
I made my home "curriculum" over the summer. We are right now bit "behind" on some of my target goals and you know what? I'm OK with that! Almost every afternoon at naptime and every night before bed, my toddler (like so many of his peers) cries bitterly and protests. Why? Not because he wants to "learn one more letter" or because he has yet to master the skill of one-to-one-correspondence. He is not concerned about whether, at age 2.5, he is ready for kindergarten in the Fall of 2019. He wants to "pway!" "More pway!" He, like so many of his peers, has so much playing to do in a day and there simply is never enough time! With some snuggles and songs and a gentle tuck-in, we remind him that there is always more time to play and our bodies need rest to do it. We kiss him goodnight and his tears subside into a sleepy smile as slumber takes over. He is content. He is safe. He is secure in knowing he will play when he wakes up. But will he? In a world where kindergarten is the new first grade and school days are lengthened as recess times are simultaneously cut, will he have an opportunity to play as he grows up?
I think of a friend of mine who a few months ago mentioned to me that her kindergartner, a former student of mine, complains each day that he hasn't had any time to play with his toys by the time school and carpool, dinner and evening routines are done. I think of the days my own house boasts an eerily tidy playroom because we have hardly had the opportunity to use it! And this is just the beginning--soon enough, home days will be replaced with school days. Extracurricular activities will require a color coded calendar with plenty of options for editing, deleting and rearranging. Evenings will be filled with homework and studying. We will feel the same pride and occasional dread that all parents of school age children feel.  We want our children to learn and to grow and to work hard. And, we also want our children to play. To remember that freedom and wonder not with a distant sense of nostalgia, but to tend to it on a daily basis and nurture it like the fragile seedling that it is. Because childhood is short and it's getting shorter. Because our children do learn through play--they learn social skills, emotional regulation and work through their fears and dilemmas. Because creativity and imagination live in their world of play and cannot be regained by reading about it in a book or researching it on the internet. Because so much of their play-world right now is about pretending to be grown up--but we want them to be children just a little bit longer nonetheless. And because one day they will, G-d willing, have children of their own to raise and worry about and kvell over--and it will be so important that they, too, remember how to play; they may need to teach their children how to do so!
I want to add as well how important I believe it is for children to see the adults in their world playing and being passionate about something. Extracurricular activities are a double-edged sword in our lives these days. Children (and their parents) have full afternoons and evenings of tending to the many family interests and talents. I certainly support children pursuing personal interests and mastery of skills that are meaningful to them. I also see the potential for it to become a delicate balancing act and remind myself constantly of one of the best pieces of parenting (and life) advice I ever heard from a fellow mother and professional: you can have it all and you can do it all, but not all at the same time. That said, we surely need to balance family interests and activities with individual needs for everyone in that family. And as parents, we must make sure that this does not always mean we put our own needs for play and creativity on hold. When we practice and attend to hobbies in front of our children, we teach them the value of self care and nurturing our interests! If it's a hobby they can enjoy as well, great! And if not, great!
So tonight, when it's time to drag our protesting toddler to bed, he will likely be crying that he needs more time to "pway." My living room will probably boast a variety of scenes posing evidence that the opposite is in fact true. He will become suddenly benevolent and want to help clean up every last toy. I will (equally benevolently) take him up on the offer! (One of the joys of a child who cannot yet tell time is that at 6:30, I can tell him it is very late and already well past bedtime as he is quickly and calmly cleaning up his playthings and only I know that I have carved out an entire extra 30 minutes just to ensure we can do this and still have time for snuggles and songs before it really is very late and well past bedtime! Remind me to cross off any activities related to reading clocks from our home preschool curriculum...) If we do happen to spend some times in structured activities to learn core early childhood concepts, great. And if not, I trust my son will not be lacking. I may go to sleep at night with a list of tasks I didn't get to during the day, but at 2.5 years old, he does not need to! In just a handful of years, I will likely be asking him questions at bedtime like "did you finish your homework? Is your backpack ready? Did you pick out your clothes for tomorrow? Did you brush your teeth?" And I will probably also ask him, "did you play today?" I hope that if there are one (or more) things left undone from that last, the latter will not be one of them. And in the meantime--play is enough. Play is enough. Play is enough!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Playing About Purim: Part 2

Whether you're hat has three corners

        Or you're a cat in a hat

                   Today's post is sure to have something about that!

A Blast from Purim Past
Dr. Suess's birthday fell on March 2nd, smack dab in the middle of our Purim unit. I love Dr. Seuss and I love watching my son grow to adore many of the books I adored as a child. We could spend a whole unit playing and learning about Dr. Seuss and that might be why I initially did not plan to do anything specifically for his birthday--now a day when reading events are celebrated nationwide to encourage childhood literacy in honor of the author's memory. The Purim story is full of exciting characters with strong emotions and even some funny hats, so when I really got down to it, an afternoon spent honoring one of our favorite children's authors would not really be off topic at all!

Emotions and feelings are one theme that I like to incorporate with Purim. Learning the language the describe emotions along with the physical and facial cues to recognize them are such an important part of social development. Learning how to identify and self-regulate emotions is a vital part of development as well. Many of these lessons are taught and learned "in the moment" as we go through our day. Sometimes, it's helpful to explore strong emotions not "in the moment," as well. One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books is My Many Colored Days. Seeing as I decided to add this sub-theme in at the very last minute, I was not at all surprised to see every copy already checked out of all the libraries in our county! No worry, I just did a quick YouTube search and found this beautiful video adaptation of the book:

I love the feel of a book in my hands, don't get me wrong. It's also nice, however to introduce literacy with a multi-media approach. In this day and age, there are great ways to experience a plethora of literature via audio-book or video. We love audio books for long (and even not-so-long) car trips as well as for quiet times at home. If you have a hard copy for those little hands to hold as they listen along, even better! YouTube is one great resource for video versions of a huge variety of children's literature and Scholastic (among other companies) produces a great variety of videos with children's books being read that are often available at your local library. 

access to paint and water often makes my little guy "very happy!"
I was inspired by this blog post on extension activities with the book My Many Colored Days to create a simple template for my son to artistically demonstrate his own feelings at the time. We used watercolor paints (in conjunction with the watercolor illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher) and talked as he painted about the different colors he was using and feelings they remind us of. He (like so many toddlers) chose to use many colors! I think it is a beautifully accurate description of the fact that toddler (and human) emotions come and go many times in a day, sometimes in pairs or small groups, sometimes solo. Our work with our young ones is to create a space that is safe in which to experience this plethora of colors and emotions as well as to process them. Providing language to describe feelings, tools to manage them and creative outlets to express them is a huge part of that process. 

After we were done painting, he naturally gravitated toward some of his favorite Dr. Seuss books for some reading on Mommy's lap! He is especially fond of Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? and that one got a lot of air time before he requested The Cat in the Hat in Yiddish! While we were on the topic of silly hats, we remembered a certain Purim story character whose hat was notoriously triangular in shape: Haman! 

We don't like to spend a lot of time focusing on the not-so-nice Haman, but we do like to spend a lot of time focusing on the delicious cookie made in the very same shape as his hat: hamentashen. We had a lot of fun reading The Better Than Best Purim by Naomi Howland a few nights ago and making our own hamentashen dough to chill overnight. I happen to be sensitive to wheat/gluten so we use spelt flour for our homemade hamentashen in a recipe I adapted from several of my favorites. Just as we were about to begin, I realized we were out of margarine! My very helpful husband offered to run to the store and I quickly detoured my soon-to-be-extremely-distraught-son to our computer to see a short video of hamentashen being baked in a kosher bakery. I expected it to dissolve the pending meltdown, but little did I know it would become a new favorite. He's requested to see it repeatedly since then! And the margarine showed up just in time to prepare our dough before bed. My little baker was very excited to shape and bake them the next afternoon.
Our Hamentashen Bakery
I will openly admit that while I love eating hamentashen, when it comes to making them, I'm always looking to cut a few corners (pun intended). This year, rather than roll out all my dough and cut circles with a glass or cookie cutter, I rolled my dough in logs before chilling and tried the ol' slice and bake method. I also found that while I can dream and imagine about the beautiful postcard image of my 2.5 year old son helping me fill, shape and bake dozens of these delicious cookies, it is way more practical to set out a small portion for him to help with and have the rest ready to go Martha-Stewart-Miracles-Of-Television style. That is just what we did! I set out half a dozen circles (that I actually did roll and cut with him to see) and our fillings of choice. He loved scooping jelly in the center. He loved eating chocolate chips. He even loved putting some chocolate chips in the cookies. He did not necessarily love the actual hamentashen, but my husband and I are enjoying them nonetheless and my son is still thrilled to have had a hand in making them.

This is either a really great busy book activity for Purim or the perfect mommy-hack for those kids
who NEVER keep a costume on for longer than 36 seconds! 
There's definitely more fun to be had and preparations in store as we count down the days until Purim. Hope you'll join us next week for some more fun and learning and until then...

Happy Playing!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Playing about Purim: Part 1

Purim is an inherently fun holiday to learn and play about! The excitement is building in our house as we sing songs, read books and play about Purim. Here's a peek at some of our favorite activities so far:

We've been busy making and hanging decorations, creating themed self-portraits, exploring math, science, building/engineering and more!

My little artist has had a lot of fun using the materials from his art center to create Purim themed decorations for our home. He's so proud to see them hanging up!

Royal Self Portraits
Dressing up in costume is a huge part of the Purim fun. The story itself has a theme of Kings, Queens and royalty, so we played on that theme a bit for this Invitation to Create a Royal Self Portrait. I provided a template I put together on my computer. In addition, I set out chalk pastels, a mirror and a crown he could wear, some construction paper crown cutouts, as well as plenty of shiny sequins and rhinestones for gluing on. Some of our Table Time activities fit into the "once and done" category, but this is one he went back to again and again throughout the day as he added and modified his royal self portrait.

Incorporating Shapes, Letters and Numbers...

The Purim story is full of hidden miracles and overall sneakiness. It's one of the reasons we wear costumes and eat a cookie with a hidden treat in the center. With creative planning, you can sneak core concepts like learning shapes, letters and numbers into just about any theme and make it a lot of fun! is a great online resource run for and by Jewish educators. There are loads of free lesson plans, materials, multi-media activities and printables available for all age and grade levels as well as for special education. I found this Purim Counting Book there and adapted it into a busy binder that can be used again and again. As my son uses the movable laminated parts (each page and part is prepared with Velcro and stored in a sheet protector), he learns about popular symbols of Purim while simultaneously developing early math skills like one-to-one-correspondence.
I sneak in some learning about letters, too. This week, we learned about the letter Kk with a King-themed letter craft that also helped us remember one of the core Purim story characters, King Achashverosh.
The month of March blew in with gusty winds and warm weather. It was the perfect time to review some shapes and our letter of the week with this kite craft. This puzzle-collage allows the artist to see how 4 triangles make the shape of a diamond.

We sang this fun song about kites as we learned about the letter Kk and welcomed the month of March. We also tied the incoming month to our Purim theme by making some fun paper plate lion and lamb masks as I taught my son that "March goes in like a lion and out like a lamb." There was a lot of roaring and baaaaaing after that!


Paper plate lion and lamb masks to welcome March!

This theme is not without its STEM-based learning and play opportunities. Our warm weather made for a perfect day to take our play activities outside for some castle building with woodblocks and chalkboard blocks, plenty of chalk doodling and an ice castle treasure excavation activity adapted from this great blog post.

Ice Castle Treasure Excavation
We became archaeologists in this fun science exploration. The night before, I filled a castle shaped bucket with water and some Purim/treasure themed loose parts I had around the house (like plastic necklaces, bracelets and rings, plastic coins and magic wands and plastic goblets all collected from the party supply section of the Dollar Tree a few years ago). I did not have the patience to layer water and trinkets and wait for it to nearly freeze before adding more water and trinkets and waiting for it freeze. Since some toys floated and others sank to the bottom, it worked perfectly to just fill the bucket nearly to the top, add some food coloring and glitter, stick it in our deep freezer and call it good!

When it was time to begin our activity, my husband ran the bucket under hot water to loosen our castle. We set up in our water table outside, but you could do so indoors as well in a large basin or even the tub. I provided toy hammers and some paint brushes, a squeeze bottle of warm water and a dish of kosher salt since we explored ways to melt ice more quickly in a science experiment earlier this year. He decided to add the rest of his tool kit! And he really went to town with this. He loved squirting the water, pinching and sprinkling (and eventually dumping) the salt and trying his hand at hammering, brushing...even sawing! A few suggestions now that we are done--you may want to use safety goggles if your little ones are particularly vigorous archaeologists. We definitely had some flying ice chunks. And secondly, stick to dollar store treasures as you may experience some casualties in the process! We had a great time with this and he's already asked to do it again soon.

That's all for now! Happy Playing!