Friday, December 28, 2012

Surviving School Holidays

In Japan many people start their winter holiday/break time today.  Most schools also started their break this week.  We started a little earlier as we kept Zilla home from school to celebrate Christmas.

Making winter break - summer break - spring break - enjoyable may take a bit of planning but it is so much better than hearing kids fight & squabble for days!

The key two our sanity during these times is twofold - keep the kids busy (minds engaged) and give them a calendar/schedule.  Here is the calendar we made at breakfast on the first day of break:
As we go along we've added things like which room to clean that day (end of the year thorough cleaning it a Japanese tradition), dentist appointments, what we did in homeschool each day and anything special that comes up.

My proof that it works - Zilla woke up asking for Houdini Homeschool!  Any day off of school, or even half day, he usually asks the same thing. 

Why does it work?
Kids love to learn.  They are naturally very curious.  If you give them something productive to do, something that they are honestly interested in, then they are less likely to do things they shouldn't be doing or to have sibling fights. 

How did we get started?
Around the age of 2 we started out with regular activity times in the morning and after the afternoon nap.  Depending on the day these time slots can last anywhere up to 3 hours.  
I don't have a lot of time for planning & preparing activities so I try to keep it simple.  We start with some sit-down work that includes coloring, writing, stickers, cutting etc.  These activities often come from a Gakken, Kumon, School Zone or similar workbook. Sometimes they are Montessori print-outs.  The reason we start this way is because my kids will most likely go through the Japanese school system which has massive amounts of written work.  I want them to get used to doing it now.  I also want them to see how other tools can be used to enhance their written work by combining the workbook based activities with the non-workbook activities.
On a typical day Zilla, 5 yrs. old, does 2 pages in an English phonics book, 2 pages in a math book, 2 mazes or dot-to-to puzzles and a cutting/pasting activity.  Most days this takes him about 30 minutes.
Mega does some stickers and coloring/writing.  She also enjoys cutting/pasting and stickers but we don't do that every day.

After the workbook activities are finished the kids move to the activity shelf to choose something to work on.  I try to have out a variety of activities at each of their levels.  They each have a rug to lay out so they can work in their own space.
The shelf activities last about an hour most days.  I need to be available to help when they ask for help so I stay near by and only work on things that are easy to put down during that time.
If we have a special activity we may do that before the shelf activity time.  Some special activities include making holiday or birthday cards, a seasonal project or something that requires special preparation such as painting.
Another part of our homeschool is to get outside for at least 30 minutes of play before lunch.  It is often too hot in summer and too cold in winter to play outside for much longer than that.  On rainy days we'll have a longer bath time or use the small hallway for bowling, care races or hitting around balloons.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

言葉&サイン リンク Kotoba & Sign Links

With the continuation of my signing journey... and my kids growing older... it is time to line up the blog, homepage, Facebook, YoutubeTwitter feed etc. under the name 言葉&サイン Kotoba & Sign.

This blog will continue to be where I share about many child related things.  However, future posts about Baby Sign Language and benefits of signing in relation to bilingualism will mainly be at  Please update your bookmarks!  And "Like" the Facebook page :-)  Thanks!

Radish Boy

There is a home delivery produce company called "Radish Boya".  The name is the Japanized version of the word "boy".

This week Zilla brought home from school a radish (daikon)  from the school's garden.  I think this picture could inspire a new Radish Boy campaign!

Since April he's brought home 2 kinds of potatos, Asian pears and this week mikans too.  His school may be in the city but they do a pretty good job giving the kids a chance to dig in the dirt and watch things grow!

String + Stick = An Hour of Fun

Zilla is 5 years old
Mega is 2 years old

As the Christmas shopping is coming together I am reminded again that kids really don't need (or even want!) expensive toys that do the playing for them.  They are much more interested in the chance to play freely using their imaginations and laughs.  

Today's "best hit" of toys was...

A string tied to a stick!

 It is a cool day but we managed to fit in an hour of play before it got dark.  I kid you not, they played with the string on a stick for most of that time!

 Zilla figured out how to make a snake...

They both mastered making circles!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pizza Box Solar Oven

Here is something I had wanted to try for a while....

A pizza box solar oven

If you do a google search you'll find various ideas and directions.  We went to the basic saran wrap over a hole cut in the box.  On a summer day in Tokyo it is warm enough to melt cheese on little pizzas in just a couple of hours!
We will be trying this again next year for sure!

Prepared Spaces

At the end of summer I joined the My Organized Chaos online class trial run.  It was a good chance to double check a number of things around the house and to make some improvements.  Many of the ideas/advice that was shared is Montessori based so it easily fit in with what we were already doing.  One of the key point of making organization in the midst of chaos is having prepared spaces.  This is especially important with kids.  The more they can do on their own the better.

This is our reading corner & play room.  Since we don't have a car we use the car seat as a chair when we are home.  This is a great way to get kids used to sitting in a car seat!
the books and toys are rotated through by season and current interest.

This is a smaller, secondary reading space.  With 2 kids there are times when they prefer to be alone so having two spaces has been nice.

A very helpful thing in the kitchen is having towels at kid height.  There is a hand towel, dish towel and wipe-up-mess towel.  It is amazing how many messes kids CAN clean up by themselves if they have the necessary tools within reach!

Here is 1/2 of the toy/activity closet.  Admittedly this is the cleaner half!

The bottom of the closet is toys divided up by type in lightweight boxes.  There are two rows on top and bottom.  This works out well because the kids are generally allowed to take out just one box at a time so that the toys don't get mixed and the room doesn't get messy!
Kids can become very easily overwhelmed by a messy room, making it harder to enjoy playing and more difficult & frustrating to clean up.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Playdough to Lasagna

Zilla is 4 years old
Mega is 2 years old

On a day during summer break I had the crazy idea of letting the kids make lunch - from scratch.
Since they are both pretty good at handeling playdough I figured making lasagna noodles would be doable.  And it was!

I mixed the dough, they shapped and rolled it 

If we do this again we need 2 or 3 rolling pins and a more sturdy surface.  The kids really got into it!  This would also be a good thing to make outside so you don't have to clean up the flour on the floor!!! 

Here is the finished lasagna.  The kids usually like it but they seemed to love this one because they helped make it.

August Activities

Zilla is 4 years old
Mega is 2 years old

I am trying to get caught up... but that means a post a few months out of season!
Here are some of the things we did in August: 

 Zilla discovered that the abacus with the numbers written on it can help him to larger connect-the-dot puzzles!

We had a homeschool time most mornings.  Mega's stuffed dog often attended too.  Here she is reading to her doggie while Zilla's coloring in his finished connect-the-dot puzzle.

As Mega gets bigger we need two work spaces so she has taken over the sensory table. 

FOr a while we have a fishing set nside the sensory table.

Mega has discovered, and mastered, her first puzzles. 

It is amazing how interesting simple things can be - like rubber bands on nails in a board. 

When they get in a groove it is pretty peaceful! 

Another recent favorite - paint with water. 

Play food makes for great roll play! 

Some of Zilla's summer homework included caring for a morning glory.  He also cared for a friend's morning glory while she went to visit her grandparents in another country. 

Mega Mamma....
She can wear two babies, feed them and get the housework done all at the same time!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Boxes as Gifts

I just say this report on the news podcast.  It is reinforcing what most parents already know - kids love boxes!  This is why the kids will be receiving a Make-do set  for Christmas this year!

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Finding September

It has taken a while for us to recover from the colds that took us down in September.  In between bouts of sickness I did manage to take a few pictures of what the kids were doing when it wasn't their turn to be sick.
small pompoms to practice poring - a new favorite! 

Supper tastes better in a box! 

snacks taste better in a box too :-) 

Having the activity shelf in the kitchen keeps everyone busy while waiting for meals

 With all the sickness we had a futon in the living room most of the month for the sick ones...

 puzzle time

  puzzle time

This is how (it seems) much of the month was spent - one family member or another laying around being sick!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Head, Shoulders, Knees and...???

One of Mega's favorite songs right now is "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes".  The Wiggles DVD that has that song is her favorite.  If she catches my looking at something on youtube she asks for the song.  When she plays school it is her main lesson!

I'm sure that eventually she'll get all the words for the body parts in the right order but until that time I'm going to enjoy watching her toddler brain try and make sense of it all!

Big Steps

Mega has been doing a lot of growing (mentally) since turning 2.  I'm sure I've missed noticing most of her accomplishments as they get lost in the business of daily life.  When I do notice something new I try to capture the moment.

 She can draw circles!
She also figured out that the yellow train has a stamp on the bottom.

Zilla received a remote control car for his birthday.  The kids have fun trying to drive the car into each other.  While neither is ready to drive something bigger I've been impressed with how quickly Mega figured out the basics! 

Cute as angels...
They like to join the Sunday School teachers as we pray before classes start.  Talking to God can be serious business... hence the looks!

~ Houdini

This and That...

Due to the sicknesses that made the round over the past month I have many things to catch up on... one of there is blogging about some of our special moments before they become forgotten memories...

Zilla came home from school one day with a bugs in a bag.  Of course he didn't tell me about it until hours after they arrived.  The poor things somehow survived.  Zilla asked for a jar and asked why he wanted it.  When he told me it was for a bug I thought he had something small like a firefly.  Thankfully over summer I had picked up a bug box at the 100 yen store as this cricket would not have been happy in a small jar!
The cricket became the centerpiece of our table.  We had a very interesting time of observation and discussion.  I realized how different the world is for my kids as we googled the Japanese name of the bug, and then the English, to learn all about it.  Some things though are best observed in person so we watched as it enjoyed eating some cucumber.  Thankfully Zilla was off at school the next day when the big bug decided it was time to eat his little friends.  Zilla came home to one less bug in the box and declared that the cricket must be an omnivore.  Did I know the meaning of that word when I was 4 years old?

Another accomplishment has come in the communication and tolerance that Zilla and Mega have for each other.  They have always gotten along but increasingly they are learning to listen to each other and do things for each other.  It has been pretty much one sided so far (Zilla accommodating Mega) so it is nice to see their relationship become more balanced. 
In this picture Zilla had been drawing some things and Mega came over asking to draw too.  She wanted a blue paper, the same as him so since he had just finished his picture so he asked Meg if he could draw something for her.  He's drawing a steam engine and she is coloring it in.  The peace between them didn't last for long (maybe 10 minutes?) but it is a great start!

This week we will once again be running as a single parent household as my husband travels for work. In recent cleaning/organizing I came across these picture calendars I made for Zilla when Daddy was on business trips a couple of years ago.  They really helped him to understand what was going on.  The top row is Daddy's daily schedule and the bottom row is ours.  I think we're going to have to make a picture calendar for this week too. Mega, especially, has little concept of time so I hope it will work as well for her as it did when Zilla was 2!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dinner Out

Recently the kids went with a friend from church to have dinner at her house.  I really wasn't sure that Mega would even go and I spent much time trying to figure out how to explain it to her and coming up with contingency plans in case she threw a major fit.  In the end things went amazingly smoothly.  The kids were ready to go about 20 minutes early and when our friend came to pick them up they waved goodbye to me, grabbed on to the stroller and took off, talking a mile a minute.  After they turned the corner I snuck over to get this shot.  I was so proud of them!

Rachel and the Treeschoolers

I am waiting for a new DVD to arrive...
The people who created Signing Time have put together a preschool DVD - which may turn into a program - that looks like so much fun.  I've had a chance to see the parent download packet with additional activities, flashcards, etc. and it looks good.  If you want to do a bit of preschool homeschool this may turn out to be a great place to start!

So, here is your first look at Rachel and the TreeSchoolers!

Let me warn you that the theme song is good... it has been stuck in my head for hte past couple of weeks!

There is also a video of one of the songs posted on Youtube.  This rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider mashed together with Never Give Up is one I can listen to again and again without it getting on my nerves.  I can't say that about all of my kid's music!!!

Our DVD isn't here yet... but I'll let you know what the kids think of it, and the related activities, after it arrives!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Way To Get Things Done

Activity shelves are a great way to keep everyone productively busy!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Little Miss Doctor

Mega is 2 years old

Mega has entered an era of enjoying pretend play.  She is really enjoying dividing up duties in our lives, telling us what to do and figuring out how the social aspects of life work.  Sometimes she will use dolls of stuffed animals to play out a situation.  Other times she enrolls us to help.   

Here are some pictures of Mega playing doctor as she cares for a couple of patients:
Checking vitals 

 taking blood pressure

 checking the ears

 a new technique - binoculars?

Uh-oh! Papa Bear needs some help! 

Looks like he is going to be ok!