Monday, January 24, 2011

Godly Play: The Good Shepherd

   As part of our Play and Learn morning routine, we start the day off with a Bible story. As soon as the house is in order and everyone is dressed and ready, I ask Sweetpea to fetch the Bible Blankie (a small quilt I made for her when she was a baby. We take this to church on Sundays and they are expected to sit quietly on it...yea, well...) When ArrowBoy hears the words 'Bible Blankie' he plonks himself down just where he is!

  To help make the stories more visual and concrete, I follow some of the principles of Godly Play. This is a Montessori-inspired approach that I first read about on Deb Chitwood's blog, Living Montessori Now. At Deb's suggestion I bought the book Young Children and Worship  by Jerome S. Berryman and Sonja Stewart. It is a fantastic introduction to this approach and about half of the book consists of patterns for making your own material. I gleaned a tremendous amount from it, and then added my own style to it, since there are a few things about their approach that I find either lacking or too 'legalised'  in comparison to our family's convictions.It remains a wonderful reference and source of inspiration for our morning Bible stories, though.

  To complement our Play and Learn with Mama theme from last week, for which we looked at the book Psalm 23 as illustrated by Barry Moser (you can see what we did by clicking here), we read the story of the Good Shepherd in the mornings. For this one I followed the guidelines from Young Children and Worship, but used a wooden shepherd figure and sheep from a nativity set that I had made last year. Instead of using strips of tan felt for the sheep fold as the book suggests, we made one out of shaped craft sticks.

Here the Good Shepherd is leading his flock through the narrow and dangerous places toward the safety of the sheepfold. 

  On the first day of our week I read the story from a children's Bible and  just briefly discuss it. We then learn a new song that relates to the story (in this case it was the Afrikaans song, Die Heer is my herder [The Lord is my Shepherd]), and then repeat our memory verse for the week (Psalm 23:1).  On the second day I bring out the Godly Play materials and present the story in this way, and we again sing our new song and practice our memory verse. The same goes for the third day. On the fourth and fifth days of the week I invite Sweetpea to present the story using the materials. She is also welcome to play with the set during the rest of the day, but only in a calm, respectful way. I will give her another toy if she is just wanting to play for fun. 

Play and Learn with Mama - Week 1: Psalm 23

   If you would like to know more about how I structure morning play and learn times at our home, please click here.

   This week our launch pad book was Psalm 23, illustrated by Barry Moser.

We read the book everyday and loved looking at the gorgeous illustrations and chatting about things like what it must be like to be sheep, why sheep need shepherds, how Jesus is like a shepherd to us, how the sheep in this book are different from the ones we usually see in our country, and so on. 


Mama-made dot-to-dots, and she had to draw in 'woolly coats' for the two sheep in the center.


We counted how many sheep in each fold by placing a Touch 'n Count cube (please see bottom of post for ordering information)  on each one. We then stacked the cubes to see which one was tallest (i.e. the most sheep!). I was hoping to do a simple graph, too, but Sweetpea lost interest.


I drew these pictures on long strips of butcher paper and taped it to the wall for Sweetpea to practice cutting. This was a hit!

Birds and their beaks

We discussed the three types of birds we saw in the book: doves, vultures and pelicans, and how their beaks are adapted to their diets. We watched short video clips online at Ocean Footage and Nature Footage and both children were fascinated and we had long conversations about pelicans and vultures all day long!

I made this simple worksheet for Sweetpea to connect each bird to it's food.

Then she traced the irregular shapes of bird beaks on a page from a cute little book called Pattern Play.

'Sheep' Art

I wanted to do something different than just gluing cotton balls to a sheep's body, so we had a go at painting with shaving cream...because it looks like sheep wool, of course!! Well, it does until you add the colour...This was the highlight of my children's week!

Oh yea, Mama!

It was inevitable, and we had a lovely shower afterwards which was almost just as much fun!!

Little Bo Peep...

I first showed her pictures of shepherds from a few children's Bibles, then helped her dress like one. I had used masking tape to make two corrals on the carpet, and drew sheepy faces on some white balloons. Their feet with cut from black cardboard to make them a little more stable. The idea for the paddle 'staff' is from here. She had to gently herd her sheep from one corral to the next using her 'staff'.

Thank goodness for such a good assistant shepherd to help keep renegade sheep at bay!

NOTE: Many of the toys and learning equipment that I use during our morning playtimes come from the various toy ranges I sell. In today's post, the Touch 'n Count Cubes is such a product. These sell at R45 per 100 (10 of each colour) - price excludes postage. I gladly accept orders for anywhere in South Africa. Please 
email me if you'd like to place an order.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Play and Learn with Mama - the vision!

 To give a little more structure to our play and exploration of the world this year, we will be using a book per week as a launch pad for play and learn activities. I am all for large doses of free and independent play and letting toddlers explore and experience, but since our current home and garden does not allow for much of this, I have noticed increasingly that my children (and I!!) become frustrated and bad tempered as the day goes on.

  To overcome this and preserve the peaceful atmosphere of our home, I have decided to give more structure to our playing and learning this year by doing 'playschool at home' in the mornings. I knew from the start that a literature-based program would be ideal for us since both the children LOVE stories and books. The two best programs I found for our three-year old are Sonlight and Before Five in A Row. I really, really like their choices of books and activities, but we had one major problem: it was all in English. Now, my children are both bilingual - their dad is an Australian who cannot speak Afrikaans at all, so all they ever hear from him is English, while I only communicate to them in Afrikaans,  my mother-tongue. But, although they understand and speak both languages equally well,  and although we read books in both languages, it is important that I continue instructing them in Afrikaans in order to not confuse their language development.

  So...I had to come up with my own program. And let me tell you, I am having so much fun!!

The idea is to choose a good children's book per week, i.e. one that offers

  • beautiful language, 
  • engaging illustrations, 
  • subject matter that appeals to my children, 
  • and offers us some new things to explore, either through the story or language, or through elements in the illustrations. 
The book itself can be written in either Afrikaans or English, but we do the activities in Afrikaans. I also prefer books by local authors, whose subject matter and visual 'clues' will teach my children about their own environment. That said, I will also be including English books from overseas.

   Once I have selected our book for the week, I start to explore it for ideas that I can turn into

  • crafts 
  • discussions on interesting or new vocabulary 
  • science and geographic information my daughter will be able to grasp 
  • opportunities for simple math activities
  • gross and fine motor skills practice
  • emotional awareness, etc.
  I have a spiral-bound notebook in which I then plot our activities for the week, and each evening after the children are in bed I can quickly prepare the next morning's activities. Sometimes this keeps us busy for about half an hour, while on other days we go for the whole morning! (Interestingly enough, I find that the mornings in which we do a lot of playing and learning together, turn into our most peaceful days! It seems to fill their joy-cups right up, and leave then contented for most of the afternoon.) 

   (I try to choose our books around a few general themes - currently it is birds, then will come fruit and vegetables, and since we are also discovering maps and South African culture, there will definitely be a local flavour to many of the choices, too.)

  In addition to our book theme for the week, we also have a separate Bible theme. At this point I am focusing mostly on teaching them about Jesus: who He is, how He loves us, what He teaches us in His Word. This we do through

  • Reading the particular passage from Scripture and various children's Bibles
  • Practicing our memory verse for the week
  • Singing a related Bible song
  • Enacting the story according to the ideas of Godly Play. (more about this is  a future post).
  In addition to this we also have a good habit to practice each week, and we have started with some simple calendar work each morning. We also try to go for a morning walk where I let them walk at their own pace. (After supper in the evenings we put Sweetpea in the backpack and Arrow in the stroller while the Dad and I walk at a pace that means business!!)

  ArrowBoy has a nap after lunch which usually last for about an hour and a half to two hours. For an hour of this time Sweetpea has to also have some quiet time and she may either read or quietly play by herself. She often asks me for paints and paper and then happily paints while I catch up on admin or sewing or just tidying up a bit. 

   I look forward to sharing with you in upcoming posts all the fun we are getting up to, and would love to hear about how you spend time with your toddlers!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Obedience Jar

   My biggest challenge as a parent so far is, without a doubt, toddler discipline. Phew! Glad I got that off my chest!!

   My daughter has inherited my inclination toward the dramatic, has very selective hearing, and finds nothing more amusing than switching to sloooooow motion whenever I need her to obey quickly. Add to that the fact that I am quite the disciplinarian and have a very goal-oriented personality, and you have a wee bit of a time bomb ticking merrily away there! Soooo...these days my bedside table is laden with books on the topic and most of my quiet time each morning is spent desperately clinging to the hem of my Master's robe, begging for wisdom and a soft voice and for His Spirit to rest on my shoulders like a gentle dove when I start to feel the annoyance building up.

   One of the books have proved to be a gem: Lisa Whelchel's Creative Correction. It is a fantastic book crammed with practical ideas for dealing with just about every disciplining issue you may ever encounter with younger children. The chapter called In The Beginning deals specifically with Toddler Discipline, and has had me giggle out loud as I was able to relate to so many of the scenarios! The Toolbox section of that chapter is chock-full of super ideas to creatively correct.

    I've adapted one of her suggestions to encourage Sweetpea to be obedient: I used two honey jars and placed 22 glass pebbles in each. For every time Sweetpea obeys a clear instruction with a merry attitude, she can remove one pebble from the 'disobedient'/frowny face jar, to add it to her 'obedient'/smiley face jar. The idea was that disobedience would work in reverse, but I soon realised that this process would become far too drawn-out to have effect, so we are sticking to only rewarding good behaviour. As soon as the frowny face jar is empty, she will get to choose a special treat: a small sticker album, a mommy-and-me-only trip to the park, or an extra story at bedtime.

    I also like to help her "bind up Truth in her heart" as we go along, and so whenever she obeys, I praise her for not only listening to me, but also for obeying God's command in Ephesians 6:1: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."

   At the time of this writing we have 5 pebbles to go - I will keep you posted!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Birthday Lapbook activities

   Sweetpea was really excited about her birthday this year, so we made the experience last a little while longer by making a lovely Birthday Lapbook that we worked on every day of her birthday week.

   The cover:

   (It is in Afrikaans and  says It's my birthday!, My birthday is on 2 January, and I am now 3 years old.)

She followed the dotted lines to complete the number 2 and 3...

For the inside we needed cupcake pictures. I found this idea in a book called 365 Things to Draw and Paint. I first painted some cupcake shapes, and then we mixed craft paint with white glue, which we slathered on top for the frosting. Added some glitter and other decorations and drew faces.

I added a little pocket for birthday candles and drew dots (1 - 4) below each cupcake. She had to count the dots and put that number of candles on each cupcake.

I printed these Birthday Candle Shapes from The Activity Mom, and she loved this!!

Drawing on the dotted lines to add a string to each balloon.

Finally, we added prints of her hand and foot - it will be fun to come back next year and see how she's grown!! 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sweetpea's third birthday

 My sweet daughter turned three the day after New Year's. This midsummer baby of mine awoke to a dreary, rainy, windy the middle of summer...after days and days of excruciating heat!! 

  It is a  tradition in our house for the birthday person to enjoy something utterly delicious and completely un-breakfast-y first thing on their special day, and since Sweetpea is the world's greatest cupcake lover....

We had her birthday party three days later...on the second day of a sweltering heat wave that hit the Cape that week!! Can you stand it?!

So...we had the air conditioning cranked up to the max inside, and then, when all the little guests had arrived, we ran outside to snap some pictures, sing the birthday song, blow...and blow...and blow out the candles, and cut the cake. 

That was about as much as any of us could stand and the frosting on that cake was melting..FAST!!, so we grabbed the bambinos and the eats and got ourselves back inside as quickly as we could! There we parked the children on the carpet for a birthday picnic while we all sat back and enjoyed the coolness! 

After we had recovered a bit, we braved the sun again for a quick splash in the blow-up pool, but they wilted pretty fast, and there were few complaints when we said it was time to go back in. I am happy to say that they then had a great play indoors and that Sweetpea was ecstatic to have all her buddies over!

The balloons to the right of the banner exploded in the heat just as the first guests arrived...

I made the little Minnie Mouse Cake Topper  and she now loves playing with it!

I love you, my little book-lover, play-phone-chatterer, hugs-giver, belly-laugh-factory-on-legs!!

Thanks to my dear friends Georgia and Este for the gorgeous photographs! Check out more of Georgia's eye candy and crafts at Love and Lollipops!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A city mother dreams....

   May I never wish them older. 

    May I not entangle their moments of childhood wonder and uncomplicated joy in the snares of adult expectations or my own silly-selfish needs. 

   Instead: Yes, yes, go!, I'd like to breathe in a tiny ear, gently moving a single golden hair beside her head with my breath, as her eyes are taking in the delicious possibilities of a world full of pond fish and tadpoles and fallen tree trunks and tiny bugs. 


 Yes!! stretch out your hand,  little one. Touch the bark, the feather, the fluffiness on that leaf. Bite into that sun-warm tomato and press your nose deep into the grass, letting that smell, that glorious, green smell come live in your memory forever. 


Taste the red dust, listen to the wind and the rain and the birds and the sound of your Mama's heart as you rest for just a moment on my lap..I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU...before you flit off again - my wonder-filled, spectacular little butterfly children!! See what Glorious Father God has made, and ENJOY it! It is a feast, a breathtaking celebration of His goodness, His creativity that causes your tiny heart to want to explode in a rainbow of joy at His beauty, His greatness!! 








Discover the Truth for yourself in the gentle unfurling of a fern leaf, in the life-hungry open beak of a baby bird, in the scurry-scurry-scurriness of those little black ants!

 But then...what is there but a tiny patch of grass, and not even enough of it for you run on. The grey pre-fabricated wall and the windows of the next house peering over it into our lives like a rude intruder, making me want to keep the curtains drawn. I don't, because it will just make your little world even smaller.  

   I ache for your sakes.  My dreams are vast expanses of rolling green fields and air so blue you can just about taste its crispness. But I wake with fears of muscles atrophying and lungs shrinking because and another neighbour suffocates a patch on our walking route with dead paving. 

   Oh, Lord!! I read to them this morning about how You lead us to green pastures, to those quiet streams of rest. Lead me there. Show me a way, Father, show this city mother how to be grateful in the midst of all this brick and concrete and the tarred roads and the never-ceasing noise. Make me blind for the smallness of the patch of grass, and instead magnify for me the miracle of each green blade that grows there. When I look up at that piece of sky the size of a postage stamp, help me, please, to not forget how amazing it still is that it is there, that I can see it, that I have them to show it to. Open my eyes to the miracles, the miracles, so I can show them.

   Come whisper gently in my ear, let me hear You tell me Go, sweet daughter, go and explore what is there! and open your eyes to all the delicious possibilities of the world I made for you: 

Plump green pea pods 

and the first lemon 

and an abundant harvest of fat tomatoes in my pot-garden...

and the birds: the sparrows and doves and bishops - a shock of red feathers amongst the lush green of the White Stinkwood. 

A tree!! Alive! A life, growing right in our front garden! Look children, look, and rub the glossy green leaves between your fingers and smell that grass -the best smell in the world! 

And do you hear the Hadeda's -  your favourite birds, Little Boy! - they are coming in at sunset now to rest in the blue gums next to the busybusy road before flying off to wherever they sleep tonight. 

Tonight...there will be the moon, it's silvery orb so gentle, and yet not all the lights of this great big city can compare to it.

Hush, now, sweet ones, and dream of those little black ants that scurried over the paving today, and remember the wonder as we watched the snail sail up the sliding door for us to see its foot, and may God guard your dreams and give you visions of green pastures...



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