Friday, October 30, 2009

Reformation Day

For Reformation Day this year I'm planning a few simple activities. The little guy is a bit young yet to capture the importance of the day so this year we're going to keep it simple.
Luther's Rose - We will talk about the meaning and then color one.
For lunch or supper or both we'll eat some German food.
Our music for the day: A Mighty Fortress.
We'll also take a look at a Luther book.
606265Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World
By Paul L. Maier, illustrated by Greg Copeland /
Concordia Publishing House

Bilingual Books J/E バイリンガル本 日/英

One thing I'm always searching for is bilingual children's books. In our case Japanese/English is the most common but we do read German/English ones too.
Finding them can be a real challenge. I've learned that when I find one I better get it right away becasue it may not be avalible for long!
So, to start off this new label group here are a few of our favorites:
くまさんくまさんなにみてるの? Brown Beear, Brown Bear, What do you See? by Eric Carle
はらぺこあおむし The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
メイシーちゃん おたのしみひろばへゆきます Maisy Goes to the Playground by Lucy Cousins
A favorite in our house right now is the bilingual picture dictionaries from this series: こどもずかん 英語つき. This one is perhaps the little guy's favorite - at least for this week... 0さい~4さいこどもずかん 英語つき We are ALL learning new words in both languages!

If you ever come across a great bilingual book please share!

Leaf Matching

I recently discovered a wonderful site called While navagating the site can be a bit tricky due to all the advertising, it is possible to find some fun and easy to prepare activities. The whole concept is that the games and activities are played on a file folder so they are easy to store and take along. I'm adapting them to the Japanese-style clear file and to a the level of my toddler.
Here we have a fall leaves color matching activity. I printed two copies of each of the page: page 1, page 2, page 3. One copy of each is as printed and the other copy has the leaves/helicopters cut out. Since I love to laminate the whole set got laminated.
With a 2 year old it is good to start with one leaf page and the 5 corresponding leaves. You can work your way up to all 10.
Another potential activity is matching the helicopters to the loose leaves by color.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fine Motor Skills 細かい運動のスキル

Recently the little guy has been showing interest in refining his fine motor skills. Here are a couple of activities that he's been working on.
This is actually a peg game that I've had sitting around. On the activity shelf the pegs are in the green dish with the triangle board next to it.
The point is to place all of the pegs in the holes on the board. Once the board is filled the pegs should go back into the green dish.
Another favorite activity is the wooden ring stacking "light house" from Ikea. In addition to stacking, the pieces can be rolled on their sides or spun in circles.
The little guy has found so many new ways to play with this toy!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Matching Caps

The little guy and I discovered a new activity today - matching pop bottle caps!
It started with practicing putting caps in the can which we haven't done in ages. When we took the caps out it seemed natural to line them up. We practiced counting and placed the caps in the can according to color.
While looking at the designs I noticed that we have a lot of pairs (and way too many Pepsi NEX caps!) so we tried lining them up. The truck was brought in the aid in the "delivery" of the caps to their "home"
It helps that our kotatsu has a grid which matches the cap size.
I also noticed that the newer caps tend to be white with simpler designs. Perhaps a reflection of the state of the economy?

Some of the caps were clearly different, They were different colors or had different designs. Others were harder to tell apart. The two green caps with faces pictured here were a bit of a challenge.
I think this is a good activity to encourage a child to look at the details of an object. Now that I've noticed the details I'll probably start shopping for drinks based on the cap designs! :-)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Photo Shoot 思い出フレームとアルバム

At Studio Pure in Nishiogikubo you can use the Suginami-ku Kossodate (child rearing) Coupons to pay for a photo shoot and album decorationg session. 西荻窪にあるスタジオピュアでは、杉並区の子育て応援券を使って「親子で作る『思い出フレーム・アルバム』」ができますよ。
We took advantage of this good deal to get a few nice pictures of the little guy. Even though he really wasn't in the mood to work with us the studio staff did a great job of trying to draw out his smiles.
The basic set includes just one photo but you can pay extra to include an aditional photo or to get extra prints, etc. Anythign beyond the basic set though cannot be paid with the Kosodate Coupons.
About 2 weeks after the photos are taken you go back to the studio for the album/frame decorating. You choose a set of 3 colors of paper and a set of scrapbooking stickers to start with. There are aditional supplies to use in decorating as well as a number of expample albums to provide inspiration.

THis is just one great way to use your Kosodate Coupons!

Activity Books

One of my biggest quests once the little guy started crawling was to find a book of activities that he could enjoy over the enxt few years.
I asked friends in Early Childhood professions, talked to sempai (older, more experienced) moms, searched the net adn browsed through Amazon. In the end I came across two books that I'm very happy with. The first is Gymboree 365 Activities You and Your Toddler Will Love: Fun Ideas for Your Toddler's Growing Mind! It happens to be out of stock on at the moment but you can still find it on Highlights include the variety of traditional nursery rhymes and games being mixed with various ideas for parents. I was hesitant to get the book because it is so colorful - which often makes me feel like the publisher is making up for a lack of content - but it has plenty of ideas and information.

The other book, Unplugged Play, which I came across in a used bookstore, is a real gem! It has tons of ideas for toddlers through grade school children. Again, many classic rhymes, games and songs are included. Each activity also has a detailed explanation with suggestions for variations.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bremen Town Musicians ブレーメンの音楽隊

For my son's birthday this year I wanted to have a theme. My hope was to find something fun and interesting yet meaningful. Right now he loves animals and music so when I came across a file folder in a store with the Bremen Town Musicians pictured on the front inspiration hit!
We have a version of the famous old story in English and a German DVD animation. While looking around for party ideas I found some really cool things!
One suggestion for a classroom setting is to make masks of the various characters and then have the kids act out the story. There is a page with various lesson plan ideas based on the story.

The best "find" for me is a mini threater set 英語日本語紙芝居 ミニシアター ブレーメンの音楽隊 on It also comes in a larger, table top size. Each set includes kamishibai 紙芝居 (story board posters), a CD with the story told in English/Japanese and English only, 2 sets of question cards in English at different levels to test comprehension, a set of picture cards and a set of sight word cards.
For $10 - $15 dollars these mini theater sets are a real deal! What started out as a birthday party theme idea will easily be turned into an ongoing learning resource.

As you can see a 2 year old can enjoy the story as much as the adults did!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Play Dough 手作りプレイドー

Last week while cleaning out a closet I came across a bunch of clay that I have been saving for a rainy day. While the little guy was very excited and wanted to give it a try he had a tough time due to the hard consistency of the clay. We have solved the problem with homemade play dough.
Here is a simple recipe that I found online:
Easy Peasy No Cook Play Dough!
2 cups of plain flour 2カップ フラワー 
4 tablespoons of ‘cream of tartar’ 4大さじ クリームオブタータ 
2 tablespoons of cooking oil 2大さじ サラダ油
1 cup of salt 1カップ 塩
2 cups of boiling water 2カップ お湯
Food coloring 食品着色料

Just pop it all in a mixing bowl and mix!
It might not come together at first, but keep on mixing, it will eventually take on that nice play doughey texture.
Try adding bits and pieces like glitter and sand to make it even more fun!


We added food coloring and extract/essence to make a variety of colors and scents. After playing keep the play dough in an air tight container for next time!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Teaching Colors

I've been looking forward to doing this activity for some time. The Montessori Color Tablets caught my attention right away when I was looking for activities to do at home. The ability to see color and differentiate shades of colors is a very special gift. Could you imagine a sunset in shades of gray? Or a theater production lit only with white lights? Color is such a huge part of our world!
Since I'm only working with one child and in a home enviroment buying all the nice sets for montessori activities is not an option for us. In this case we have opted for a well-known substitute for the color tablets - paint samples.
I have to admit here that I don't know where in Tokyo to get similar samples so I picked them up while in the US last summer. I'm sure they can be found here too - I just don't know where.
These are paint examples from a homestore that I laminated to make a bit more durable.

I started by introducing the red, yellow and blue colors first. The little guy grasped the idea so quickly that I didn't even get a picture of it!

This is the "basic" set that I made. It was too easy in that the little guy barely had to think to do it and lined up all the colors correctly on the first try. Next time I'll introduce shades of color to him.

Margaret Homfray showing how to use the color tablets:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Baby Signing Time and Signing Time

Did you know that Signing Time has a youtube site?
Take a look here:
We are using the Baby Signing Time series in the new baby sign language class that I started teaching recently. The videos are great, the music catchy and flashcards very useful!
Here is a sneak peek at a couple of the upcoming songs for class:
Here I Go

Diaper Dance

If you live int he US check your local library for the DVDs. Once you're hooked you can buy them on the Signing Time homepage or from Amazon, etc. For those of us outside the US it is well worth the price of shipping to order from the Signing Time homepage!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

1st Birthday

Are you looking for some gift ideas for a 1 year old?
Here are a few pictures of things that the litte guy really enjoyed nad made good use of over the past year.

With 1 year olds anything that can be freely explored works well. It is true that they often get more enjoyment from the box that a present comes in than from the present itself!
Some other things that make great gifts are simple musical instruments, wooden cars, soft blocks and stacking toys.

New Baby Gift

In the US it is common to have a baby shower before a baby is born and in Japan it is common to give gifts after the birth. In either situation I like to give something a bit more personal than money and more helpful that clothes that the baby will soon outgrow.
When I have time I like to make a bag for the gift that can be reused. This is a simple rectangle shape with a ribbon drawstring sewn in at the top.
Here is a peek at one newborn gift. Included are some of my favorite baby prooducts.
- Set of Roll-a-Rounds (each ball makes a different sound)
- Homemade cloth with various bits of ribbon for the baby to explore
- Pack of gauze handkerchiefs - a great multipurpose item
- American baby wipes - these are bigger, stronger and softer than the commonly avalible Japanese counterparts.

When you can't make up your mind about what to give just remember that it's the thought that counts!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Margaret Homfray Lectures

I've been looking around online for more information abotu child development so that I can stay a few steps ahead of the little guy in his development. One interesting thing I came across is a series of lectures by Margaret Homfray who learned from and worked with Dr. Montessori. You can see them on Google Video here. Many of the lectures are long (45 minutes) but the depth of imformation is wonderful. It is easy to see how many or the objects and ideas that Dr. Montessori used have inspired toys and activities for kids around the world for the past century.
We won't be ably to buy all the supplies but the basic concepts are easily applied to things already in the home.
It is awesome to have access to this (for free) from home!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mommy's Secrets

I've started teaching an English class for Mommies and Babies on Mondays. In class today we had a good discussion which got me to thinking... we have information that can be shared and hopefully will be helpful to other moms (or dads) in the area.

Today's topic was "Mommy's Secrets". Our discussion questions included "Where do you like to go with your baby?" and "What is something you wish you would have known before having a baby?"
Here is a summary of what we came up with:
Where do you like to go with your baby?

0123 - a city-run place that resembles a jidokan (children's recreation center) for kids age 0-3 years old.
Kamiigusa Sports Center Kid's Room - The public sports center has a room that families can use for free. They just ask that you sign in at the desk so they know how many people are using the room. It's a great place to play on a rainy day! (There is a picture of the room at the bottom of the linked page)
Skip Kids - A cafe with a small American-style play space. There is also a separate ball are for babies under 1 yr. old so they don't get trampled. The food, staff and atmosphere is wonderful.
Local parks - we have many of them in Suginami-ku. It is great to get out and play on a sunny day!
What is something you wish you would have known before having a baby?

- That not all babies sleep a lot and some babies don't like to sleep at night.
- It is ok to go out of the house in the first month after the baby is born. Many women in Japan feel trapped at home with the baby until the 1 month check-up as they are told not to even go out for a walk or to the grocery store. In class we agreed that for the mental health of the mommy it's best to not feel trapped in a small apartment for a month!
- You don't need to get a complete wardrobe in every size. Babies grow quickly so you may not even be able to use all the baby clothes. One approach is to buy things in every other size - for example get things in 50cm, 70 cm, 90 cm and skip buying things that are 60 cm and 80 cm.
- Babies can be very expensive. It is not just buying things... the utility bills may go up, budgets for travel need to be increased to cover an additional person, child care/activities need to be taken into consideration.
During the baby (more like toddler) time today we read 2 books.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear (Sign and Sing Along)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Starting Points for Montessori at Home

Jojoebi, another "foreign" wife in Japan has a blog that I've enjoyed reading for quite a while. Her success with integrating Montessori ideas into family life here has inspired me more than once. Today she has a great post for those which can give guidance to those who are just starting out on a Montessori journey in their own homes.
It's a long post but so full of good information.
I love the way ideas, experiences and information can be shared online!