Saturday, February 26, 2011

Teaching your Kids to Read

We started teaching our preschooler how to read about 4 months ago and ever since then it seems like we've been getting lots of questions about how to do it. So for those of you who have been asking... this post is for you. If you haven't been asking, perhaps you can find a preschooler to teach after you see all of the fun and exciting resources that are available.

Almost everything below is most likely available at your library or for free online.

To start your child needs to learn their letter sounds. For this we used the Leap Frog Series Letter Factory. It worked like a charm and the kids LOVE it. I also LOVE it because it is sans character attitude, which is hard to find these days. 

The show follows Tad as he learns his letter sounds by meeting all of the letters in the factory that are creatively learning how to say their sound. He meets the "M"s who eat all day and say "Mmmmm" and the "O"s that sound like Tarzan as they swing through a jungle yelling "OooooooOoo". 

It's fun and they'll learn. 

I promise. 

After conquering sounds we moved on to our main book, Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. The title does a pretty good job of summing it up. 

Bean is on lesson 93 and she can read, even after 93 easy lessons. 

The book teaches sounds as well, but it was more fun learning them through the movie. It takes about 20 minutes a day of one-on-one time, but we both really enjoy the time and I'll be sad when it's over.

In addition to learning the phonics of reading there are also sight words. These are those pesky words that you just can't sound out. For this we use Preschool Prep Company's Meet the Sight Words Sieres

The series is brilliant.

Each DVD introduces 15 different words. To do so they animate each word in a fun way, for example, the word "on" is a pig, like you see above. The only thing you hear the entire time the "on" is on the screen is the word "on" as the pig walks around the farm.

For additional reading supplements we use "Bob Books" These are short stories with simple pictures, but my kids think they are funny. They do a lot of sitting on things and on each other (For instance, Mat sat on Sam). The books build upon each other, so you just have to make your way through the series.

We also adore our set of Little Angel Readers. These Catholic books are so sweet and are filled with simple lessons in virtue or the lives of the Saints. You often see little guardian angels floating around and watching over the kids, which my kids get such a kick out of!

Next, meet Zac from Bean cries (this is not a joke), if she can't play her "Zac games" at some point throughout the day. She's a little obsessed... we're working on it. Starfall is filled with online games, activities, movies and animated stories that your child can click their way through. 

Again, it's fun and they'll learn.

Finally, on to a program you have to pay for... Reading Eggs. We LOVE this program. It's not super cheap at $69.00 a year, but you can test it out for free for two weeks to see if you and your kiddo like it. This online program teaches your budding reader how to read in 120 fun and interactive lessons filled games and videos. It has a spelling component (Skills Bank), a place to write stories (Story Factory), a place to read stories (Storylands), and so much more. Test it out, I promise you'll be impressed.

P.S. I think it's important to let a child's first experiences in reading to be with actual books, so we wait to use this until after we have established a foundation for sounding out words and have begun to read a few very simple books.

That's it from my experience, if you have any stellar ideas you'd add to this list, please put them in the comments!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Making Daily Prayer Work as a Mother

For the last FOCUS Wives' Club Newsletter I wrote an article on prayer as a wife and mother. With Lent less than 2 weeks away I thought now would be a good time to post the article as Catholics across the world start considering how they will sanctify their Lenten season.

Perhaps this year is the time for you to commit or recommit to daily mental prayer?

After putting the kids down for their naps, I sat down at my computer to begin writing this article on the importance of daily prayer and how it changes when you become a wife and mother. I was drawing a blank. I had some bullet points in mind, but couldn’t formulate anything together. And then it hit me. I myself hadn’t taken the time to pray that day.

You’ve been there right? Tell me you have. It’s one of those day’s when you sleep in and everything gets started late so you tell yourself “I’ll pray during nap time”. Then you get there and you have fifteen things on the to-do list and you say “Let me just knock a few of these off and then I’ll spend some time with You Lord”. A few things later and the kids are up, “What!” you think “I just put them down... two hours ago”.

Getting our daily mental prayer time in as wives and mothers can be a challenge. It’s just not as simple as it may have been in the past, but that doesn’t mean that we are no longer called to it. So don’t give up! Instead, accept this change in your life and discover ways that you can embrace the new normal.

Step 1: New Vision
Let go of the idea that prayer consists of kneeling quietly before the Blessed Sacrament with complete focus and occasional levitation. More likely it will look like sitting on the couch with a prayer book and journal with occasional interruptions to free the captives (a waking child) or feed the hungry (a nursing infant).

Step 2: Be faithful 
It’s easy to get discouraged and let a few days slip by without praying, especially in times of transition. But, what God wants more than anything from our prayer time is daily fidelity.

Step 3: Put it on the schedule... 
And while you’re at it, put a backup time on the schedule too. Look at your daily routine and see what makes the most sense for you at this time for 10-20-30 minutes of mental prayer. For many of us this will be first thing in the morning or when the kids are sleeping. I know schedules can be difficult with infants, so you may need to be more flexible. Perhaps commit to praying during the first nap your child takes each day, whenever that may be. The key is to put first things first when your free time occurs. If you wait, chances are you will rush your prayer or not get it in at all. I’ve also found that when I spend the beginning of my free time with our Lord, I accomplish more during the rest of it.

Step 4: Set expectations for kids
Teach your older children about your prayer time and set expectations for them during it. If you try to get your prayer time in before the kids wake up chances are they will not always sleep until you are finished. But, if you have trained them to wait until you are done praying to ask for your assistance, interruptions will eventually be less of an issue. For non-napping kids you can still institute a quite time when everyone needs to be in a designated spot reading or playing quietly without interrupting mom.

Step 5: Have a plan for your prayer 
Sometimes when we sit down to pray we give up because we aren’t really sure what to do. While there are many methods of prayer, I suggest a simple version of the Teresian method of prayer, which is modeled after the instructions of St. Teresa of Avila, for those who are trying to get back into the grove of things. To begin, take a few minutes to calm your mind and heart, praying one decade of the rosary can help in this process. Then select a reading from the Bible or a meditation from a book, such as In Conversation with God which follows the daily mass readings. While reading, if something jumps out at you, take a moment to consider why and reflect on the idea until you are ready to move on. Once you have completed the reading, come up with a simple and concrete resolution as a result of what you have learned in your prayer time and write it down in a journal. From there you can continue to journal or offer prayers of petition. Finally, close with a prayer of thanksgiving.

Blessings to you as you decide how the Lord is calling you to deepen your relationship with Him in the upcoming season!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Feast of St. Peter's Chair

Last week Kevin posted this picture of a statue of John Paul II that he saw on his trip to Mexico City, but what he didn't do is tell you what makes it so unique. I think on this the Feast of St. Peter's Chair there is no better time to explain its history.

When JP II came to Mexico City in 2002 to canonize Juan Diego, who Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to, the statue was built in the Pope's honor.

What is amazing about it is that the statue is made out of keys donated by the people of Mexico. The keys were used to symbolize Peter's reception of the keys to the kingdom from Jesus and the authority the Pope has today. In order to display this symbolism, they left many of the keys semi-unmelted in the back of the statue.

Isn't that awesome!

After dinner Kevin read the names of all 265 popes. Our son perked up every time a Pope with his name was mentioned. "Oh, that's me!" Other than that we got blank stares, but it was still interesting to hear the full line of succession.

While they are a bit young to understand papal succession, we had some fun making miters!

I posted instructions for them here because you can make a miter on dozens of Feast days with so many popes and bishops who are saints!

Paper Bishop Miter or "Pope Hat"

With so many feasts that celebrate a bishop or pope, like today's Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, paper miters come in handy for many occasions!

There's not much to them so get ready to be amazed.

To start you need:
  • Roll of paper
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Step 1: Cut a piece of paper that is about 20 x 24 inches.

Step 2: Fold it in half hamburger style from the top to the bottom, so the crease is at the top of the paper.

Step 3: Fold the top right and left corners in to meet in the middle and for a triangle. There will be a little strip left on the bottom, this is good.

Step 4: Fold the top piece of the bottom strip up.

Step 5: Flip the hat over and do the same with the other strip. 

Step 6: Fold the bottom right and left points in to form the hat. You can adjust the hat size by folding them in more or less.

Here is how it will look when you flip it back over.

Step 7: Add some strips to the back inside of the hat.

Step 8: Find a toddler to model your hat. 

 Step 9: Find a preschooler to decorate the hat to his/her hearts content.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Archived Catholic Comics On-line

Every so often in my continual search for fun ways to integrate the faith into our home I run across something that gets me really excited. So what did I find? Well, since Tuesday is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, I'll let my example be...

Catholic comics.

Admit it, that's awesome. It is one of hundreds of archives of the Catholic magazine from the 40's-70's titled Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact. Thanks to the people at the Catholic University of America most issues from the 40's-60's have been uploaded and you can search through them on-line. The rest are still under copyright, but maybe one day they'll be added.

Not only can you find Feast Day comics, but you can also find an array of other items from crafts to history lessons to tips on sports. 

Maybe you don't think this is exciting. That's okay. I still wanted to share it. So I did.

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Valentine's Day

Happy St. Valentine's Day! I made my first ever cheesecake today!

It looks yummy, but we'll see how it tastes in about an hour when Kevin returns home from Mexico City! I'm sure he'll post about it sometime this week, but for now I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a sparkly Our Lady of Guadalupe statue from my Valentine.

Today consisted of a lot of hearts.

There were pancakes...


(Looks like I need to change a lightbulb. Funny, I had forgotten about that until I saw this picture.)

and heart cookies to go with our pocket full of love cards for our friends, who we spent the afternoon delivering these bundles too.

We added a cross to each plate because Jesus is the ultimate Valentine!

Check out my little chef working hard!

We also read this biography of St. Valentine, which I picked up at the library, hooray! Although little can be known of this man who was a priest and martyr, it gives some of the legendary background of where the traditions of today's celebration come from.

I hope your day was a sweet as ours!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

What a great Feast Day it is today. Of all of the devotions to Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes is the most dear to my heart. Just this past May Kevin and I took a trip to Lourdes and I wrote a bit about it on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, so if you want details, check out the post.

Because I want to get to watching The Song of Bernadette, I'm just going to share the highlights of our celebration today.

We made some of our own Grottos inspired by the above picture I took on our trip.

Making Grottos is serious stuff...

so don't take this project I came up with after searching the web for ideas lightly. Basically the goal was to not have to go to the store to buy anything, so my supplies came out to this...

The picture for coloring comes from Waltzing Matilda. I just love people like her that give their talents to the world. I don't personally know her, but I can tell she is really cool.

We also read a little book we picked up in Lourdes on St. Bernadette.

You can tell someone from France translated it because it says awesome things like "the Soubirous family begins to have big money trouble" and "Mrs Soubirous thinks her daughter has lost her head" or "He (the priest) doesn't believe her and he tells her off". Funny phrases for a kids book, but I love it.

Finally the kids received a special blessing tonight with water straight from Lourdes that Kevin bravely took a sip of at customs when they questioned why we had 6 mini bottles of the same water. Probably wasn't the worst idea to have blessed himself in such a way before hoping on an overnight flight.

Alright, it's movie time!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Feast of St. Scholastica

As a graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison, KS I feel it my particular duty to celebrate the Feast of St. Scholastica with as much fun and enthusiasm as possible... which I do happily.

St. Scholastica is the twin sister of St. Benedict. What did those parents do right?

One of the most famous stories of the pair is about a night that St. Benedict came to make his yearly visit. After dinner he refused to stay any longer, despite the pleading of his sister to continue their conversation about the joy of heaven. So St. Scholastica bowed her head to pray. As soon as she lifted it the once clear sky struck with thunder and a massive storm began, preventing St. Benedict from leaving until the next day.

Three days after their visit St. Benedict looked to the sky and saw his sister's soul leaving the earth in the form of a dove. Overjoyed he called upon some of his brothers to retrieve her body for burial in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

For these reasons St. Scholastica is the patroness of storms and is often pictured with a dove.

After the kids nap we read The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica by Tomie DePaola, which Kevin found at a consignment sale that was run by mothers with twins, very fitting.

After the book Bean was inspired to create her own special feast day snack. In the book it says "Scholastica... was eager to help fulfill Jesus' command to feed and clothe the poor and to tend the sick." So her idea was to make doctor kits using graham crackers, pretzels and frosting for our snack.

Pal's reminds me a bit of Stone Hedge.

We also made some origami doves. If you pull their tails their wings flap. Highly entertaining. 

For instructions on how to make an origami dove (well, they call it a bird) check out this great youtube tutorial

If you have ever eaten dinner at a Benedictine monastery you know that during the meal a portion of the Rule of St. Benedict is read. The Rule covers all of the norms of monastic life, so sometimes the topics are quite humorous for dinner conversation. When I was at Benedictine I went to the Mount (where the sisters live) for dinner almost every week to meet with my prayer partner, Sr. Paula. She is quite the amazing woman. At the age of 70 she started writing icons. WHAT?!?!, right. Pretty incredible. Here she is in her studio.

Anyway, point being, of course we read some of the rule during dinner! The kids wanted to learn about "The Porter", who is in charge of welcoming guests, and "The Tools and Goods of the Monastery".

Finally after dinner we made a stormy sea float for our patroness of storms.

Just dye some sprite blue and add vanilla ice cream for some awesome foam. My kids just LOVE these. You can also use these for many bible stories, like Jonah and Jesus calming the sea or walking or water.

St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, Pray for us!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Pocket Full of Love Valentine's Day Cards

Less than one week. That's how much time women across America have to prepare for the beast that is commercialized Valentine's Day. I'm not trying to be cynical here, it's just Valentine's Day is a lot like Prom... typically disappointing. Weather for you it's Single's Awareness Day (SAD) or Forced Affection Day (FAD?) both scenarios end with lost hopes when a magical moment doesn't manifest itself.

I prefer the Valentine's celebrations I remember from grade school, before the hype of love requiring a significant other. I loved carefully making cards and taping candy to each envelope. I loved dropping those cards in the delicately decorated shoeboxes that my classmates worked so hard on. I loved getting to wear a red and white outfit to school instead of my uniform. I loved going home with my personal shoebox full of candy and cards. I loved it all.

Perhaps that's why I still love making Valentine's cards. Who can be sad cutting out hearts and thinking of the people you hold most dear that you will send them to? Not me... even when my son ends up sticking car stickers all over his hearts while my daughter argues that cars are "not for Valentine's Day". And that was my morning today making "a pocket full of love" cards for our favorite people.

To start I decorated two pieces of red paper cut out in the shape of a pocket like so...

Then I glued them back to back. Just don't forget to leave an opening for the top.

My kids decorated a heart for each person in the family we are sending a pocket.

The purple one's are Bean's. Somehow cars are not Valentine's material, but dinosaurs are.

Then we stuffed our pockets, you know so they would be full of love...

and we'll ship them out sometime this week!

I wish I could take credit for the cute poem we put on the back, but it come from Paper Dali, whose blog is SO worth checking out for amazing printable coloring pages of saints and historical figures.

Also, for a wealth of ideas for all things St. Valentine's day head over to Catholic Icing, where I'm going to add this post to the St. Valentine's Day link up!