Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Clothes Shopping List

In one of the yahoo groups that I'm a part of there is a recent string of posts about economical ways to dress babies/toddlers/kids.  It is expensive in Japan to buy many things and kids clothes in particular seem to cost more than they should! We have a Nishimatsuya near by and I watch both Uniqlo and Nissen for sales. Here are some of the "what to buy" tips that work for me. The basics in our house are all things that can work for either a boy or girl as we have one of each.

In each even number size (80, 90, 100 etc.) I buy the following:
Plain t-shirts - 1 black, 1 white
long sleeve t-shirts - 1 black, 1 white
1 pair of jeans (in sizes above 100cm look at Uniqlo and GAP for the adjustable waistband)
1 pair of brown or khaki pants
1 pair of sweat pants
2 warm pajama sets
2 swimsuits
2 pairs of dark color shorts
4 pairs of socks - 2 dark, 2 light
6 pairs of underwear
1 light weight coat
1 dark color cardigan sweater
1 nice dress-up outfit (something that will work for both weddings and funerals)
1 turtle neck shirt
A rain coat or poncho - I have been using the same one for 3 years now by rolling up the sleeves for when the kids were little. Getting a bigger one means it can be worn over a coat on the cold, rainy days too.

Shoes are something we have a hard time with as my kids will wear them out
quickly at times and barely use them at other times. I watch for sales and try
to get a simple looking pair in each whole size (13 cm, 14 cm, 15 cm etc) as it
is important to have foot ware that fits well. Our rain boots are in even number
sizes as we don't use them as often.

For my daughter I also get:
2 pairs of tights - 1 white, 1 black
1 pair of black leggings
2 skirts/dresses
A pink shirt (I don't love pink but everyone here seems to think girls need to
wear it!)

For my son I also get:
2 button-up dress shirts
2 polo shirts

Of course we own a lot more clothes than just these but I find that if we have
the basics then anything beyond can easily be added to the wardrobe. We do a
lot of layering of clothes - t-shirt over turtleneck, skirt over leggings. I
have also found it a challenge to find things out of season here (swimsuit in
winter?) so even if I think the kid will grow out of the size before the next
season I still try to have things on hand for all seasons - especially since we
try to visit warm places in winter and cool places in summer!

A friend of mine with 3 boys suggested buying more clothes in the 80 cm size than the 70 cm size since her kids stayed in that size for nearly a year at age 1. That has worked out well for me too. She also pointed me to Hard Off (in the Book Off family) for nicer clothes at a good price. Thrift shops and bazaars at churches and yochiens also helped her save money on clothing and toys.

This year Zilla fell in love with Uniqlo heat tech in the kids sizes so I've been buying up the basics at the end of season sales. They are great for layering!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Baby Love

Shh... I'm rocking my baby.  He's very sleepy.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mushed Up Languages

Recently there has been a lot of talk in my vicinity (not necessarily conversations that I've been a part of...) about kids learning more than one language.  There are many theories and approaches and of course many people think they know best... and it amazes me to see how many of those people know just one language!

First, I'd like you to realize that there are many definitions of "knowing" a language.  Does it mean being able to have a conversation?  Being able to watch the news and understand?  Being able to read a book?  How about the newspaper?
Depending on the definition I "know" 4 languages, use many more and am fluent in just 1 <-- that would be English!

In our home we have 4 common languages, 3 which get us through the day.  These three are the ones the kids have the best handle on.  In addition to those languages we have a few others which the kids come into contact with regularly.  Do they get confused... no.  Do they intentionally mix languages... yes.  Do I get confused - sometimes!

Here are some of the things we do to expose our kids to various languages (including ones we can't read/write/speak!) in a way that is natural and picks their curiosity:

 - Have books from the same series in various languages.  Sometimes I'll get the same book, other times I'll get similar books, one in each language.
Example: Thomas and Friends, きかんしゃトーマスThomas und seine Freunde

 - Bilingual books are great too!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar / Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt. Englisch-Deutsche Ausgabe


 - If you are not sure of pronounciation then a book with accompanying CD can help.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: Book & CD

 - Multilingual TV shows are another way to bring in a language. Zilla's interest in Spanish comes mainly from shows like Handy Manny, Dora and Diego.

I love to use music to learn languages... or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I enjoy music which happens to include various languages.

 - The Wiggles, while mainly in English, include songs from various languages and cultures.

 - Listening to songs like some of those in Riding the Wind which include 2 or more languages ( I can't read French but I can sing along!)

 - Taize - a great community which has multilingual podcasts for free.  It is great music/readings for relaxing and meditation or to set the mood for a peaceful dinner with preschoolers!

Perhaps the most fun way for me is picking up children's picture books in various languages when we go on vacation or receiving them as souvineers when someone  returns from their travels.

Another fairly easy way to bring in languages yet help them to connect in children's minds is to have Bible stories where you can read the corresponding stories in various languages.

You can do all of these things and more to encourage language learning but no matter how well you prepare the environment the key component is to actually use the language, not just repeat a set of sounds.  Interacting, playing, conversing together is key.  You don't need to be fluent or have perfect pronouciation because successfully using a language isn't about how much you know, it is about how you use what you know.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Heartfully Busy

There is a Japanglish/Engrish word - heartfully - which I have taken a liking to.  I think the English translation would be something like "full of heart/passion/feeling" but with these kinds of words it is hard to know for sure!
Over the past couple of weeks life has been busy so our schedule fell apart completely.  Part of it is my fault because I've been too tired to care.  It is easier to let the kids play freely than to make sure things are picked up, the activity shelf is organized and we stick to a routine.  Even in the midst of the chaos we've managed to "learn" some things!

A Valentin's Day snack/activity

"iChat" with...??? I think they started with "talking" to the grandparents and then  switched to various other relatives and friends!

Watching something on TV... most likely a couple of Valentine's Day specials (they were on DVD, not TV).

My grand plan was to have the kids make cards.  The kids had about 30 minutes of interest and then they were so over it!  Next time I'll have them make 1 card and then copy it to send to everyone.  The other problem is that I haven't sent any of the cards yet! Oops...

Zilla's new book of mazes.  The geographic theme goes well with the world map on the wall.

Their first "kids only" movie time - Whinnie the Pooh - and popcorn!

 Amazingly the pencils in the pringles can is still a popular activity!

Mega love to pour things.  Here she is pouring pompoms from a plastic bottle into a bowl. 

The train is always a favorite.  It seems like each month they get a little closer to being able to play with it together with minimal fighting.  Right now the biggest challenge is helping Mega to be aware of where her body is and how it can break apart the track!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hat Basket

Mega is 18 months old

Here is a little thing which has become a very helpful thing.  A plastic mirror with magnets on the back so it can stay on the fridge.  I'm always trying to keep the "little helpers" busy in the kitchen as they love to be near me yet things get done a lot quicker/easier when they are not actually helping.  
Near the mirror on the fridge is a basket with hats and a couple of masks.  Eventually I'll probably add sunglasses and some other accessories but so far the hats provide a good 5-10 minutes of entertainment on most days.  The mirror itself is also great for entertaining as you can play peek-a-boo, make faces and experiment with reflections.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Busy Learning More

Zilla is 4 yrs. old
Mega is 18 mo. old

While this week hasn't exactly been productive, the kids are managing to make a few discoveries. One of my homeschooling friends posted on Facebook recently that she was wishing for a teacher's inservice day so she could play catch-up. That really struck a chord with me.  So many mornings recently (too many really) have started with my trying to print things and arrange trays for the shelves while the kids are finishing their breakfast.  I have an ongoing organization project to try and make room for things to be stored in a way that I can just whip them out... but I seem to never have time to work on it.  It is tempting to pull an all nighter sometime to try to get ahead on things... 

I've been trying to figure out how/when to introduce world geography and cultural studies.  We have an empty bottom half of a wall behind the living room door.  Since the door is closed most of the time to keep the room at a decent temp that space has been calling out to me to be put to a good use. Recently Costco was selling the world map that you see in this picture.  It is the right size, and in English.  The world flags along the bottom make for a fun matching activity with the flag cards I picked up at a 100 yen shop a few years back.  Add to that a globe ball, to help them remember the earth is round, and my National Geographic World Atlas for Young Readers and you have a nice little learning corner.

Having this in the living room is turning out to be handy!

We had an afternoon when Mega napped while Zilla just read quietly so after a half hour of peace and quiet I challenged Zilla to a game of memory.  I'm still the champ of the house... though that is more due to his lack of strategy than to my strength of memory.

On occasion there are quiet working moments... but with Mega wanting to do everything Zilla does, often on the same chair and using the same piece of paper, those moment never last long!

As part of our learning challenges we memorize a Bible verse each week. Recently we started using Sign & Say Bible Verses for Children. Since the book uses ASL vocabulary the kids already know some of the signs. Both Zilla (4 yrs.) and Mega (18 mo.) are enjoying learning their memory work this way!

This has been a favorite activity for Zilla but he has reached the point where it is too easy. Time to start looking for the next level of challenge for him!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Of Balance Bikes and Trikes

Zilla is 4 yrs. old
Mega is 18 mo. old

If the weather is nice (not raining or snowing) Mega and Zilla love to spend some time each day on their bikes. Meg is on her 2nd hand-me-down trike as the first one is pretty much worn out.  It went through 4 very active boys before becoming hers.  The trike in this picture is her "new bike" (her words/signs).
Both kids are on the tall side for Japan so they actually run into problems with trike size.  Zilla never really learned to pedal because his legs were too long by the time he reached the age where he would be able to pedal!
A year ago we knew Zilla needed to move to a bigger bike.  He spent the summer mastering the balance bike / strider.  This is basically a little bike (his has a hand break) with no pedals.  The idea is that if the kids can learn to balance first, then, after they have mastered the balancing act, learn to ride with pedals.  
Since Mega and Zilla are just about 3 years apart in age we opted to get a balance bike which will be passed on to Mega when Zilla is ready to move up to a bigger, pedal bike.  There are balance bikes which can be converted to regular bikes but since the ones sold in Japan are small we are pretty sure Zilla would outgrown it in no time!

As you can see Zilla can pick up some speed on his bike so normally he wears a helmet... especially if he is going farther than down this side street.  While we've been accident free so far I know the day will come when he tries to do tricks!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Home School Life

Mega is 1 yr. 6 mo. old
Zilla is 4 yrs. old

In the past couple of weeks (ok, the whole month of January really) I've been struggling to get our daily lives back into a normal routine.  We've had many unexpected and uncommon interruptions but in spite of all that there is still time to learn.  As Mega becomes more interested in Zilla's work we've been running into problems.  The biggest problem is that she wants to do everything he does - and not everything he does is able to be adjusted to her level.  Because of this Zilla and I are making some extra special time on the days when he is not tired enough for a nap but Mega is.

With the Christmas money we received this year I bought the Brilliant Minds Montessori Math Kit and Reading/Writing Curriculum.  Since I don't have Montessori training I sometimes feel a bit lost as to the progression of things or how/where to get the various items which are used.  With Zilla's continued interest in numbers and letters I felt it was time to get something that will allow him to explore both areas and discover how they work.  I know he will learn these things eventually in school but he is interest in them now.  Also, I'd rather have him get a hands-on start which he can come back to again if the things taught in school are not making sense.
The Brilliant Minds sets in combination with the Montessori At Home e-book have given me enough to resources and direction to stay a few steps ahead of both kids.  I've also discovered the wonderful site Montessori Materials which has many free printouts which go along with the things we're working on.

So, would you like to see what these Montessori things look like when put into practice?

The shelves in our kitchen/dining room continue to serve us well.

A very practical Practical Life activity... kids wash the breakfast dishes.  While they don't wash them every day I do try to give them the chance to wash either breakfast or snack dishes a couple of times a week.  Since most of our dishes are either plastic or Corelle (I don't buy anything for the kitchen which is likely to break in an earthquake) there is not much concern about them breaking. At the end of a washing time they also get practice in wiping up spilled water as Mega has a tendency to dump the water out of a cup in the wrong direction once in a while.

A new favorite - graphing snacks.  It is amazing how easily his mind takes in math ideas when his tummy gets to take them in too!

Zilla still loves the Kumon Cubes and the challenge of making the various arrangements pictured on the accompanying cards.

 Sometimes the activities we do are aimed more at Mega's level.  She is starting out with the very first pre-writing activities.  When I set this up the plan was to glue on the noodles but it quickly became clear that she is not ready for glue yet!

Zilla's first attempts at the beaded stair went well. 

He took to this activity right away which basically means it was too easy!

After breezing through the beaded stair Zilla is stuck on figuring out the teens.  He can say the names of the numbers, but never in the same order twice!  He was also struggling with the actual concept of numbers being more 10.  Through working with these beads he is practicing the names of the numbers and wrapping his mind around larger numbers.  Normally we would do this activity on a rug on the floor but if there is a chance of Mega waking up before he's done he works at the table.