Monday, November 16, 2009


I just wanted to submit a huge thanks to Nikki for the suggestion of theme day. I planned on doing orange today, but Lee really wanted red, so all day long we had a "Red Day Party." Everyone in our family wore red, I found some raspberry jell-o in the cupboard and made it for lunch, along with spaghetti. All morning long Lee would come running to me as excited as he could saying "Look! Red! Look! Red!" After lunch we had a "Red Day Party Parade" and found red things to make into hats, red things to bang on, and red things to wave as we marched around the house singing made up songs about the color red.

The kids loved it, I loved it, and it was an overall great day. A few things that I found out while trying this today: -This would be a fantastic way to help a kid figure out things that they might be struggling with. Like that one letter they can't quite nail down, or that color they never seem to identify correctly...or even a behavioral concept, like "sharing day" or "sitting in the car day." Making a party out of it and getting your kid super excited for it helps them identify with that topic in a new and fun way, and all the repetition of focusing on just one thing all day long gives them the extra boost they need to remember it. -This also helps me as a mom be more creative. I didn't pay a single penny for our party today, but I did think about red all day and what more I could do. Like I said, I remembered that I had red jell-o. I made up songs. Lee suggested the parade. I tapped into my inner feminine desire to create good and special things, which helped me feel like a better person, and consequently, a better mom.

I love it when we have successful days like this. It wasn't hard, it wasn't expensive, and it worked SO well. I will definitely be doing more theme-day parties in the near future.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Theme days: Colors

When my oldest two kids were under three we often had "theme days."  I felt like choosing a theme like specific colors made the planning easy.

I remember a blue day when we had blueberries with our breakfast and blue milk, blue hard boiled eggs (from Easter egg coloring kits- but you could just use food dye and follow the directions on the box), colored with different shades of blue crayons, pointed out blue objects around the house, and even dyed the bubble bath blue with food coloring. 

I think it was after several days of different colors that we had an activity one day with colored water teaching our primary colors and secondary colors by mixing them.

If you're feeling adventurous you can even make your own playdough in your theme color.  I like to use this recipe posted about here.  I don't usually add the glitter though.  I personally don't like the smell of store-bought playdough.  So if we're not making peanut butter playdough than this is what we use. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Positive Parenting

I'm often kind of shocked at how many different parenting self-help books and strategies are out there. Some are really out there. But one "method" really rings true to me.

It's called "Positive Parenting." To get straight to the gist of it, the goal is to give your children so much positive praise and attention that they won't resort to poor behavior to get the attention they need, and when it comes to discipline, the removal of that positive attention is more of a punishment than the time-out or whatever discipline you use. To be really successful at this, you need to praise your child for nearly every good behavior, even tiny babies. At first it is difficult to remember, so put a pebble in your shoe or turn all your clocks sideways or something so that you are reminded to give your child positive praise. Kids just starting this method will need a lot of praise to get accustomed to it--around 100 positive notices a day. After a few weeks, when the child and yourself have built a relationship around all this praise, it doesn't have to be quite as much, around 50 times a day, but the more the better.

Now, I'm not an expert on positive parenting, nor do I get all my needed praises in, but whenever I notice my kids doing something right--from using a spoon, to sharing toys (even if they're not sharing perfectly), to helping in the kitchen, to simply NOT making a scene in the middle of the grocery store, I try to let them know that I appreciate their good behavior, that I think they are smart or cute or well-behaved, or a good sibling, or just a good kid.

There's all kinds of what-if situations with this parenting method, so I could write a novel on it; but other people already have, so I won't here. This is just to remind me, and to give all of you, my favorite ideas on parenting. I love how happy our home is when I search all day for good things my kids are doing, instead of grumping about their poor behavior. The kids aren't perfect. But the smile my son gets when he knows he's done something right is priceless. And my daughter's happy little laugh--nothing better.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Floor Time

Floortime is special.
During floortime, get down on the floor so you are playing within the child's focus or interest and at his or her level.

Floortime helps each child:
*become more alert and develop a longer attention span
*take more initiative during play and have fun learning.
*become more flexible and tolerant of frustration.
*become a better problem solver.
*learn communication and relationship-building skills.

5 Steps to floortime

1. Observation
*Tune in to your child
*Notice your child's state of awareness and general mood.
*What is your child interested in? What are his or her favorite toys and/or play activities?

2. Approach
*Fit your approach to your child's level of energy.
*Open the communication circle by asking to join your child's play or by letting your child choose what to play with.

3. Follow the Child's Lead
*Join your child's play.
*Imitate the child; do what he or she was enjoying doing.
*Take turns.
*Help the baby be successful. Do not take over.
*Smile and support your child in play.

4. Extend and Expand the Play
*Take your child's imagination and ideas one step further.
*Extend the play by changing it slightly.
*Try something new with the same toy or activity.
*Then wait for the child to try and imitate you.
*Support his or her attempts to try new things.

5. Close the Communication Circle
*Be aware of when the child is tuning out.
*Let the child be in charge.
*Has your child had enough or wants a different activity?
*Wait to see if the child will re-engage.
*Then jouin your child in his or her next interest area.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting ready for Halloween

I've been focusing my FAD lessons on Halloween preparation these past few weeks, and my son is so excited that it reminds me of how beautiful childhood really is. We've made garbage sack ghosts (a big white garbage sack with grocery store sacks stuffed in the head, then tied off with string and a face drawn on, hung from our trees in the yard), decorated with other little things we found in the basement, and found things going on in the community to attend. We also sing any Halloween song I can remember, practice our trick-or-treating, and make witch, monster, and ghost sounds. Our lessons also extend to Autumn, and often include going outside to play in the pretty leaves, or just sitting on the porch and watching them fall.

It is fun for me and for Lee to have these special holiday lessons. He is learning our family traditions and how to celebrate life. I love them because I learn to live in the moment, and how to find joy in the little details. I can't wait to do the same for many upcoming holidays!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Apple Paint--Bird Feeder--Nature Collage

Painting is always a good creativity booster. Cut an apple in half to make a star. Stick a fork in the top. Dip it in the paint and stamp circles with stars in the middle. Take a leaf that is still malleable and dip it in the paint to make leaf stamps. You could turn the apple circles into pumpkins if you draw a brown stem on the top. Get creative!

You could also make a bird feeder with an old toilet paper roll. Punch two holes across the top to thread yarn across the top for hanging. Spread glue all over the outside of the roll and then roll in bird seed. Lisa, I have extra bird seed I could drop off at your house if you want to do it.

Go on a small walk finding cool stuff like sticks, leaves, bark etc. and glue them on a paper to make a nature collage.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Peanut Butter Play-Dough

Try this recipe:
Peanut Butter Play-dough
1 cup peanut butter (creamy is best)
1 cup corn syrup
1 1/4 cup dry milk
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Knead together until smooth and play! Refrigerate between uses.

I love this because it is a great thing to play with, as well as totally edible and quite tasty. You can combine snack time with play time, and you can eat it up before it gets all dry and gross like store-bought play-dough. I grew up with this treat and craved it all through my pregnancies.

Today we used Peanut Butter Play-dough to talk about shapes. You can draw shapes on parchment or wax paper and then turn it over so that the kids can line up their play-dough over the shapes. It's a fun and new way to learn lots of things, too. When I was sixteen, I taught Piano lessons and drew a staff on wax paper, then put pieces of play-dough on the lines or spaces and had the kid name the note. (You can also do that with candies or pennies too.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Today we talked about teeth. We were able to brush and floss a stuffed animal that had lots of teeth. We then saw pictures of teeth that were well taken care of, and teeth that weren't.

As a side note, after the teeth, we had a pouring activity to develop fine motor skills. To wrap up the lesson we had bells we wrapped on her legs and turned on some nursery rhyme music to dance.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." It is true, on many levels.

One thing I've tried to do, but still need lots of work on, is being a part of the community where I live. I think it's important to find the interesting and special things about each area you live in, and help your children discover them. We are sometimes willing to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see something 'cool,' but have we discovered those little wonders in our own backyard?

My exciting lesson today came from the Ares DM-1 test. I am fortunate enough to live just an hour's drive away from where the test was conducted, which was a test firing of the rocket that will take men again to the Moon, and eventually beyond (Mars). I took the kids out, and we got to talk about NASA and outer space, rockets, and also fun things like bright lights and loud noises. But more importantly, we were able to connect with the world around us in a very physical way.

I hope in your Focus time with your kids, you take a few hours here and there to discover something special near you. Whether it's a natural wonder, or a historic building, or a local museum, finding out about your community will always be a lesson you children will cherish.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Music and children

Being a former music major, I learned early on the vast importance of music in the home. Still, it can be kind of daunting for some people to sing with their kids or try to play an instrument. So, I'm going to head off on a tangent for a moment.

When a human has sensory input--they hear something, taste something, feel something, etc--it excites certain areas of the brain. Doctors have seen this on MRI's and CAT scans. It is really wondrous to behold the human brain creating memories and connections, and watching the electric and chemical impulses bouncing around. These connections are massively important in young children, who form 90% or more of their behavioral impulses before they reach the age of 3. That gives us parents just a few short years to instruct and demonstrate good behavior before our children are in ruts that it may be impossible to come out of. Crazy, huh!

So, how can we make sure the brain develops the right synapses? Music! When examining the brain during an MRI, doctors noticed that a picture or a scent would light up a certain, specific, section of the brain. However, when the patient listened to music, the entire brain was afire, lighting everywhere over and over again. How intriguing. A concept presented with music therefore reaches all of our memory and function centers faster and more completely than other forms of communication. Fellow parents, this is why it is essential that we have music in our homes.

Now, I'm not talking about playing a 1-man-band symphony every night to put our kids to sleep, or that we sing like opera stars to impress them. I'm talking about singing silly kids songs like "Eensie Weensie Spider" and "Twinkle Twinkle little Star." How many of us can still sing our ABC's easier than just saying them? That's because our brain can associate it with music. If you sing a goofy song, even just make up the tune and the words, to encourage a child to take a bath or eat their broccoli, you might just find it works.

Music can also be a fantastic attention-getter. I find when my son Lee has been listening to a lesson for a few minutes, he loses focus. That's when it is time to halt gears, get up, and sing a song. Maybe throw in some actions. Who cares how it sounds; this is between my 3 year old son and me. Nobody knows if I'm completely off tune. But Lee knows he's having fun, and by choosing a song that goes with my lesson, I continue to engage his brain in focusing activity.

So if you're self conscious or don't like music for whatever reason, it's time to get off your high horse and sing with your kids. They will quickly forget if it sounds good, and always remember the concept you sang to them, or the laughter that ensued afterword.

p.s. If you're still too self-conscious, go get some kid's CD's at the store and dance along.

Monday, August 24, 2009


You should all check out Starfall. My son LOVES it! It teaches him his alphabet, but it is more than that. It first can teach your kids what the letters are and how they sound, but then it goes farther and teaches them how to read. It is quite amazing. My mother actually would sit at the computer with my son in her lap playing this when he was only like..... 6 months old or something. I can't remember his age, but she started him out really soon and he is like... a pro at letters now. He can even spell his name already (he's three). I think it is amazing. Check it out! ^_^


If there's one thing I really remember from my years in Preschool (which my mother taught), it is how essential patterns are for kids. Kids thrive on routine. When they know what is coming next in the day, they are much better behaved overall, and are able to help out.

So that was my lesson topic today. We sang the days of the week song (to the tune of "Allouetta" or however you spell that, you sing the days of the week starting with Sunday through Saturday, then say "now we start again.") We also sang the months of the year (to the tune of "10 little Indians:" "January, February, March and April. May, June, July and August. September, October, November, December, Those are the months of the year.") Then I got some cans and some boxes out of the cupboard, and also some dry beans of different colors. I helped my son make patterns like: box, can, box, can, box, can... or black bean, white bean, black, white, black...

Since this was our first time with patterns, I kept it insanely simple. I would go outside and discover patterns outside, but it is pouring rain, so we did it inside. Like the way the dresser drawers stack up, or the stripes on a towel, or the funky wood paneling in his bedroom.

By rotating activities I sort of kept his attention, though the lesson still was under 10 minutes. That's okay for me, that's why I'm doing lessons like these 3 times a week. It's to help him practice focusing, and to help him learn about small, simple things around him. Not bad for my first time, huh!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Welcome to FAD!

This is Focus and Discovery (FAD), a blog and forum for parents of young children.
FAD is a specific time we set within our own homes, to teach literacy and a love of learning to the next generation. FAD is a way to help our children discover themselves and the world around them, in a safe, hands-on environment. FAD is parents encouraging other parents to keep up the good work. FAD is a place for all of us to learn from each other's experiences, and to laugh, worry, love, and cry together.

Welcome, dear friends, to Focus and Discovery!

On this blog, we encourage everyone to post as often and as frequently as you like. Please keep your posts and comments clean, even if they are expressing frustrations. Here is where we can share our ideas on teaching young children the basic concepts of literacy and organized lessons. We can put up pictures of our children's projects and their successes. We can ask questions and get advice if we need it. Tell us what you're doing, and how it is going.

As a mother, I have often wished my children came with an instruction manual. Perhaps we can use this blog to share our experiences, in the hopes that all will be mutually benefited.

We invite all who are interested to join in the forum. Thank you, and welcome again.