Little Hands that Cook with Books: Turkey Casserole

Do you have some leftover turkey?  Here's a great recipe for your little one to make all by themselves! 

It’s turkey time at cooking class! The girls have been learning to many skills in the past 8 weeks that they were ready to create a dish all by themselves! 

Bilingual Babies- Christmas 2011 Traditions

This month is a wonderful time to blend and merge traditions of two cultures.  Often times schools will introduce Christmas around the world to their students in the form of crafts.  I would encourage you to take your child's learning a little further! The Internet and your local library are great sources for learning more about holiday traditions around the world. If you are fortunate to have family members close by or a phone call away- ask them about their family traditions! Here are some hints for Celebrating a diverse holiday from the Language Castle.

I was always curious about the Russian traditions.  They do not celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but on January 7th based on the old Julian calendar.  For many years celebrating Christmas was forbidden (More info here) For many people, New Years became the "New" Christmas complete with a tree, fireworks, gifts, and a visit from "Ded Moroz," Grandfather Frost.  New Year's today remains the largest holiday, but many Russians also celebrate Christmas. 

My husband and I laugh because although we were born many, many miles apart, my Christmas and his New Years were very similar!  Our families decorated trees ( we both have baby pictures next to the tree.)  We both gathered with our family for dinner and toasted for good health, happiness, and fortune.  Our families all baked breads, roasted meats, and made other traditional dishes.  Small gifts like books, sweets,  and clothing were also given to family members.

Our tree went up this weekend and it is a symbol of our traditions merged and is by no means meant for the cover of Martha Stewart magazine, rather an awakening of memories in our hearts.  Just as my grandmother started a tradition of giving me one ornament for Christmas each year, we have asked our parents to continue the tradition for our children.  Because of this - our tree represents who we are as a family.  There are more classic Russian ornaments such as this one from my sons' Christmas ornament last year.
And a more modern ornaments such as these from my daughter's collection that represent the different cultural dresses of some Ethnic Russian groups.  We enjoy telling our children stories from the year they received each ornament and have made sure to label and date the boxes or the ornaments themselves with a permanent marker. 
Now that our tree is up and decorated  - we have time to enjoy it!

My Bilingual Goals for the month are to
1. Cook some traditional pastries and soups - at least one each week.
2. Read 1 story a day in Russian
3. Make a felt board story for Snegorichka (Grandfather Frost's Granddaughter)
4. Teach my kids the song about the evergreen tree! More Russian songs here and here in case you were looking for some! We have the first verse mastered.

Here are the words =)  WISH ME LUCK!!!!

В лесу родилась елочка,
В лесу она росла,
Зимой и летом стройная, зеленая была.
Зимой и летом стройная, зеленая была.

Метель ей пела песенку:
"Спи, елочка, бай-бай!"
Мороз снежком укутывал: "Смотри, не замерзай!"
Мороз снежком укутывал: "Смотри, не замерзай!"

Трусишка - зайка серенький
Под елочкой скакал.
Порою волк, сердитый волк, рысцою пробегал.
Порою волк, сердитый волк, рысцою пробегал.

Чу! Снег по лесу частому
Под полозом скрипит;
Лошадка мохноногая торопится, бежит.
Лошадка мохноногая торопится, бежит.

Везет лошадка дровеньки,
А в дровнях мужичок,
Срубил он нашу елочку под самый корешок.
Срубил он нашу елочку под самый корешок.

И вот она, нарядная,
На праздник к нам пришла,
И много, много радости детишкам принесла.
И много, много радости детишкам принесла. 

Thanksgiving Activities for Kids

Thanksgiving Activity Ideas for Kids


This week, we tried our very best to take some time to "Give Thanks" as we went about our week.  The girls are having lots of fun reading books and creating projects about Thanksgiving.  Most importantly we are  learning about the "Spirit of Thanksgiving."  Now that they are in Kindergarten in a Public School there aren't as many opportunities to work on handmade art and craft projects which is so important for them to experience.  So we tried our best to incorporate some projects at home.   

Here's a few of our projects that we created this week in both of our homes. 

How to make an owl apron

An Eco Friendly Sewing Craft Activity for Parent whoooooo Love OWLS!

Kim's owl pizza cooking class really jump kicked our owl week!  And WHOOOO can resist owls?  We obviously can't!  There are so many cute owl puppets, costumes, and activities out there you could almost do a whole month with an owl theme!  This "How To" came about when I saw this owl costume (love the simplicity and the feathers) and this owl apron (Love the colors) and when Kim called and reminded us to bring our aprons for cooking class, I knew exactly what to do!!!! (well, I kind of winged it!) I merged some of the ideas with the supplies I had on hand and the time available to create my owl apron. Total cost = Free!  Time = 30 minutes.  Here's how I create it! 

Owl T-Shirt Tutorial

An Easy Craft for Parents WHOOO love OWLS!!!

We made Owl T-Shirts together with my daughter's friends. They were our craft during cooking class when we made Owl  Pizzas. I know you're little one will enjoy making their own Owl T-Shirt. It's so easy to make!

Little Hands that Cook with Books: Alphabet Soup

 To begin our cooking lesson this week we read The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin.   In the story the little girl compares her own family's green leafy vegetable garden to the neighbors' colorful flowering gardens.  At the end of the story her Mother makes a special soup from her garden that attracts all the neighbors and encourages them to plant their very own chinese vegetables the next season along with their flowers.  This was such a great book to teach about making growing vegetables and making Soup. 
The author, Grace Lin, has a website with of resources and lots of other great titles.  Here's the recipe to make your very own Ugly Vegetable Soup from the book. 

After reading the story the girls the girls went shopping for our ingredients to make Alphabet Soup.  Pick your favorite soup recipe to use.  We followed a simple minestrone soup recipe. 
They selected vegetable words from the pot and had to find them on the counter.  They each were responsible for washing the vegetable that they found from the counter.  Then we divided up all the vegetables equally and started cutting with our metal butter knives.  They did such a great job chopping up their zucchini, yellow squash, celery, carrots, grean beans and even some onions. 
We measured our chicken broth and diced tomatoes and put then into the a pot and then the adult was in charge of cooking.  Once all of their vegetables were chopped up we added a dash of all the seasonings, making sure to smelling first to see what we're adding. 

The soup only took minutes to cook.  At the very end we added our Alphabet Pasta to finish it off.  Each child had their own pot cooking, we were missing a few of our friends. 
While our soup was cooking it was Alphabet Soup Time.  Each of the girls received a few letters to play the game Alphabet Soup.  Here's the Song...

Now it was time to make our very own Alphabet Soup.  Each child had the opportunity to cut their own pot with black paper.  Then it was time to add the soup.  They took alphabet pasta and glued it onto the paper.  I love that they all look different.  As we were working on it the girls came up with other ideas for the Alphabet Soup Song.  Their ideas were a Rhyming Soup Song and a Sight Word Soup Song, which we will most certainly be making this week. 
The whole house was filled the the aroma of our soup cooking while we were making our project.  It was such a perfect way to relate to the book.  They could not wait to taste their very own soup.  It was so cute all of the bowls were empty within minutes.  Then they each brought home a container to share with their families too.  They were so proud of their own accomplishment.
I encourage you to check out your local libraries under children's books and the topic soup!  There were so many to choose from for this lesson.  I am so excited to extend our collection of Soup books and foresee many more cooking lessons with making soup. 


Bilingual Babies - Acting Out a Story, "Repka"

Acting out a story for language learning and story sequencing

Have you heard of the famous Russian Fairytale - Repka?  You can find an English and Russian version here.  If you are not familiar with the text, it is a cute story of a Grandpa who cannot pull a GIGANTIC turnip out of the garden and calls for help.  Grandma comes, but the two together cannot pull it out together and they call for the Granddaughter to help.  The Grandpa, the Grandma, the Granddaughter, the Dog, the Cat, and the Mouse all end up working together to pull out the turnip.  It is a delightful little story about teamwork, that also follows a repetitive pattern that is wonderful for beginning readers and learning a second language. (It also happens to be about gardening - which we love) When I explained the "Play Challenge" for today, my 5 year old knew just what book she would use and ran to the bookshelf to pick this one up!
 No re-enactment is complete without a costume!  She ran to put a traditional dress on and together we made our GIGANTIC turnip out of construction paper, staples and newspaper stuffing.  And of course what a better place for this activity than to get outside - the WORLD is our classroom. Do not limit your language learning to inside your house - take it outside! Make everyday a playing and learning day outside.  If you can't tell, my kids are LEARNING the act of storytelling, vocabulary in a second language, are enjoying being outside, we are talking about vegetables and PLAYING together! Time is not wasted - little learners are hard at work!
 "тянут-потянут, вытянуть не могут!"
They pulled and they pulled, but it didn't come out!
A call for help and "Supermom" comes!
 "тянут-потянут, вытянуть не могут!"
They pulled and they pulled, but it didn't come out!
Then, thanks to the help of our little mouse, the turnip was set free!
тянут-потянут, - вытянули репку!
The pulled and they pulled - the turnip was out!

I am so glad that my daughter thought of this book when I mentioned the play challenge for today.  My kids LOVED this retelling activity and even my 2 year old son started chiming in the chorus in Russian.  I also felt like they were learning an important piece of history in addition to the language, play, and storytelling.  I truly feel that learning a language is deeper than just knowing how to pronounce a word or form sentences.  Have you taken the time to share your families cultures traditional stories with your children?  If not, please don't forget to do so.

6 +1 Traits of Writing - Afterschool Express

Writing with Grade School Children

What I love about our team of after-schooling parents (Those of us that believe strongly in providing educational opportunities to our grade school children at home) Little Wonder Days, Mouse Grows Mouse Learns, Just Playin' Around, Mama Smiles, Superheroes and Princesses, The Educators' Spin On It, and What Do We Do All Day is that each and everyone does amazing things with their children!  I get great ideas from them each week and they inspire me to be a better parent and a better educator. What I love is that activities that feature reading AND writing are being blogged about!!!
and Learning With Mouse's daughter writes a Birthday Card
After school, we have been focusing on writing the last month, as reading and writing is connected.  Strengthening a child's writing skills will have an effect on their reading skills.  At home, I use a combination of Interactive Writing and Writers Workshop approach to writing with my kindergartner.  Both are research based practices that have shown to be beneficial for improving students reading and writing. 

This last month, I have read this professional book called, "6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades" by Ruth Culham.  I know that as a parent of a kindergartner we spend lots of time generating ideas for what we write about, but this book gave some great idea on how to include more and important parts of the writing process; ideas, organization, voice (tone), word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions.   I found Ms. Culham's website online and she offers free rubrics (a rubric is a way to assess writing) for both teachers and students on each area.  There are some for different ages in both teacher and student friendly forms. These can be used to see where your children are in their writing and also as a way to generate ideas on how to help them strengthen their writing.

My daughter has been making lots of lists and has started writing several stories, including the story, "The Grl that codint red the noospapr." (The girl that couldn't read the newspaper)  I am planning on printing these rubrics to expand on one of her chosen stories.  We usually just use blank paper folded in half and stapled like a book for writing in.  I will only focus on one or two aspects this week and will update you on how it goes in future Afterschool Express posts!

I'd love to see how you encourage and expand upon your child's writing!  Little Wonder Days is hosting this weeks' Afterschool Blog Hop. We'd love to see the amazing things you do with your children!!!

Tot School - Autumn and the Play Challenge

This week we brought out the ribbon dancing rings (home-made from canning jar rings and ribbon) and made harvest crowns.  My harvest king had a blast dancing to music and spinning around!
We painted and ripped paper!
He is very into cooking and wants to help me all the time.  Sometimes, instead of letting him cook with me, we bring out all the pots and he pretends to cook all on his own.  He even hears me walk into the kitchen and runs yelling, "cook, cook, cook!" We have not let him touch the oven, so is very good about avoiding it and holds his hand out and says "HOT!" when anyone goes near it.
We also brought out the dot - painters again this week and made a habitat for little squirrel!  Silly me let him do this the day we were taking 2 year old pictures and his hands were the most beautiful colors of purples, blues and reds!
A new thing this week is the 30 Days to Play Challenge with Hands on: as we grow and The imagination tree.  They are hosting a 30 challenge to encourage families to play for 15 uninterrupted minutes every day.  We play a lot at this household, so we included the goal of playing together as an entire family as we have so much fun when Papa plays along!  There are some great play prompts that have encouraged us to PLAY!!!Here are some pictures from the first week:

Day 1 Goals
Day 2 Forts
Day 3 Blocks!
Day 4 Islands
Day 5 Playdough
Day 6 Family Time
Day 7 Drawing on the floor
Tot School

Little Hands that Cook with Books: Owl Pizza

 WHOOOO wants to cook?

The theme for Cooking Class today was Owls! 

We read this adorable book about this little baby owl who didn't want to go out with his parents in the night.  He meets new friends each night who teach him many ways that the night is special including stars, fireworks, campfires, and even when Santa comes.  The book is The Owl Who is Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson and illustrated by Paul Howard.  Your little ones will truly enjoy this story, especially now that the time change just happened and darkness is here sooner.  I can't wait to check out more from the author Jill Tomlinson, she has some great titles. 

Fall Sight Word Games and Activities

Learning to read is a process that is spread out over many years.  No one program or activity will teach your child how to read.  It is a combination of developing a love for reading and teaching different aspects of reading that will help your child learn.  You are your child’s first and most important teacher.  You know how your child will learn best and will be able to adapt these different activities to fit their needs and abilities.  Each child learns at his own pace and I believe that we must encourage them, but not overwhelm them with the task of reading.  A four year old that expresses interest in reading could be introduced to basic sight words ( I, the, me, and) other 4 year olds may have no interest.  It is important to know your child!  The following are examples of activities that I would do in my kindergarten and first grade classrooms.  They can be adapted to be easier or more difficult by changing the words.
Learning to read is now being broken down into print awareness, phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing.  In the past week, 3 people have asked me about sight words and I wanted to address this area.   Sight words are the words we most commonly see in written print.  These words cannot always be sounded out and therefore must be learned by “heart” or memory.  Knowing these words may help improve a student’s fluency, or reading speed and their vocabulary, words they know.  Fun games and activities are a great way to help your children memorize these words. Here are just 3 ideas to get your mind spinning!

Activity 1: Make a word wall

Public school classrooms in our area are required to have a word wall in their classroom.  These walls have the letters of the alphabet with important words underneath.  We have a simplified version in our house and add the sight words that we are learning.  Children can use this chart as a resource when they are writing.  We play games such as, “Can you find the word that rhymes with ____” or “I’m thinking of a word that has 3 letters.  It has the  /a/ sound in the middle.”

Activity 2: Sight Word Jars

An empty pasta sauce jar can be filled with fun seasonal items such as acorns and words!  The children can tip and turn the jar to read these words!  For an added challenge, you may print this sheet and children may tally the words read and write a sentence using one or all of the words (Reading and writing are connected!) I have left the word spaces blank so that you may use the words your child is currently working on!

Activity 3: Seasonal Sight Word Game

This turkey is easy to make and fun to play!  All you need is some construction paper and a black marker!  You can change it by just having your child find the sight word match, writing the sight word once on the turkey and once on the feather.  Children in this activity match the number word feather to the number on the body of the turkey.  I laminated mine and have used it for almost 10 years!

For more ideas for Fall

Tot School Fall Painting - A toddler Masterpiece

Painting with a Toddler:

Toddlers are great at running and climbing.  They love to explore the world and find out how things move.  They need to make and create things with their hands, but are not quite ready for "crafts" in the traditional sense.  1 and 2 year olds needs open ended art projects that allow them to experiment with different colors and textures.  The focus on art at this age should really be on the process and not the product.  But, if you are like me and like to display your child's art, there are only so many pages of scribbles that one refrigerator door can hold.  So, we have begun creating Toddler Masterpieces to display above our fireplace!

The supplies you will need depend on the mediums you choose to use.  I bought a stack of 5 canvases, so that I will have some on hand.  This month, I needed leaves, acrylic paint, and paint brushes in addition to the canvas. 

Although I have an idea of what the finished project "could" look like, I will follow my child's lead and let him create!  For October and November, I wanted something fallish and decided to paint with leaves.  The night before, I prepared for this activity by painting the canvas a fall yellow/orange.  Before starting to paint with him, I try to make sure everything I need is within my reach.  A wet washcloth or wipes nearby could be helpful too!  During the activity, I try to remember and talk to him about colors and the process.  Looking back, I could have used some science vocabulary like "stem" to enhance the learning even further.  I consider art time as part of our "tot-school" curriculum.

When it is done, I proudly displayed his toddler masterpiece above the fireplace.  My tot saw it as soon as he got up from nap and pointed at it said, "mine" with a smile. 
Yes, baby, it is yours.  You painted it and I am proud of you!

Afterschool Express: Using Playtime for Writing Inspiration

We had a great time celebrating Halloween over the past week.  Every story time seemed to involve books that are thematic to Fall and Halloween.  My daughter has been running around with her costume and horse the past week pretending to be Jessie from Toy Story.  I created a post this week about the Important of Dramatic Play with our children, please Check it out here!  Making real life connections to literacy is so important at this age.   

Using all of this playtime experience, we took some time to write about her character that she dressed.  I just wanted to share, in fact she asked me to :).  I took it as a teachable moment to help her learn Story Elements to my 5 year old.  Although we talk about it all the time during storytime, I haven't had a formal lesson with her.

Teaching Story Elements
I introduced to her a story map and the vocabulary words that go along with it.  We discussed that every story has a Beginning, Middle and End.  We talked about how stories have a problem and a solution.  We even talked about how stories have characters and a setting.  It was a very basic lesson on Story Elements but she really was interested and was able to easily create her very own story.  Here's a Story Map Printable that you can use for your next storytime during your afterschool lessons.  It's a great way to check comprehension. 

First I had her illustrate her book.  We took three pages and I asked her to come up with a beginning, middle and end to the story.  We talked about who was in the story and where they would be.  She decided it would be about Jessie lost in the desert with a camel.  And in the end the camel would help her find her way home to Bullseye.  (too funny).  Then she create her cover for her book. 

Then at another sitting she attached the images she created onto paper so she could write her words to describe the pictures she made.  Here's was she wrote for her story... 

Jessie's Lost
Once upon a time Jessie met a camel in the desert. 
Jessie was lost. 
Then Jessie was home.  She was happy to see Bullseye. 
The End. 

All very basic but she created all by herself which I think is a great for a 5 year old.  Her pictures of coarse have much more detail in them and explain a lot more about the story.  She captured the basic understand of problem and solution as well as beginning, middle, end and characters.  Then she decided to teach herself how to write fancy... 5 year olds can keep you on your toes! 

Wood floors and coffee cake - the Natural Playscape Way

 Inspiring Creativity

What I love about natural playscapes is that they are always changing.  Bamboo rods can be turned into almost anything with the help of an amazing husband and dad.
This is what their "house" looked like in the morning.  But, by the late afternoon, things really got cooking!

My daughter called me to help make her a broom from palm fronds.  She said, "I must keep our hard wood floors nice and tidy!"  I couldn't agree more and got to work right away.  We cut 8 palm fronds and tried tying the them together with string, but it didn't last long with all the sweeping going on, so we ended up using electrical tape to hold them together.  With the addition of some coffee grounds, the coffee cake making began!  My garden pots became the kitchen and a log became the stove.
 My afteroon snack of coffee cake - YUM.  May I have a second helping please?
Isn't it amazing what kids can create with their imaginations?  I can't wait to see what they will come up with next!

Literacy Connections: Save Your Halloween Costumes for Playtime

Don't put away those Halloween Costumes yet!  It's time to make Literacy Connections!

My daughter had a very descriptive idea of what she wanted to be this year for Halloween.  She wanted to be Jessie from Toy Story.  I'm not sure where it started from, as we've only watched the movie a handful of times, but something in that character "Jessie" sparked her curiosity and imagination.  Two things we encourage in our house! 

Costumes are great for our Imaginations
It made me start to think about our children's imagination and using dress up clothes to identify with characters in movies and also to form new characters.  Then it made me realize that it would be a great connection to find as many books about the characters to get our children reading.  I wanted to make her costume that would last for awhile in our home for Dress Up time.   I used a simple idea that I hope to use for other characters as they develop.  We just used some fabric, fabric paint and yarn to create our costume, very budget friendly! 

Here's our creation!

I just made a simple vest pattern and added arms covers to it.  We painted it with red paint to represent Jessie's strips on her shirt and arms.  This idea is so basic that you could create all sorts of characters using this concept.  You can  just add the varying color to make the character and alter the arm design.

Here's what my costume pieces look like for "Jessie" the Cowgirl
More ideas to use with a Vest

Owl- brown vest and feather shaped arms and headband. See our post about Owl Headbands
Cat- black or white vest and paw shaped arms with Triangle ear headband
Dog- black and white spots vest and paw shaped arms with Dog shaped ears
Buzz Lightyear- Vest with buttons and arms with lazer
Firefighter, police officer, doctor, nurse, cowboy, ladybug, butterfly, spider with legs...

You get the idea... the idea is endless. 

If you have an idea I'd love to hear and/or see it!  Just email it to us at and we'll post it on our From Our Readers Page

Read a Book about your Costume
I just wanted to take a moment to suggest that you take advantage of this costume you've made or purchased for Halloween this year and put it to good use after Halloween.  Find some books about your child's character.  The local library is a great place to start! Book stores also have great selections on specific characters, a lot of them even for Beginning Readers.  Encourage dramatic play with their costumes and discuss characters and setting and plot to work on learning story elements. 
Write a Story about your Costume
When were were deciding on a costume, my daughter gave me very specific details of what the costume needed to have in her ideal world.  I even had her make me a picture and describe with words what it should have, great writing prompt on descriptive words. The other thing I suggest is to encourage your little one to create their own stories about this character.  You could even role play it with them before they begin.  The more they connect to an idea the easier it is to write about it. 

Your child needs to play!  There are so many benefits to dramatic playtime with your child.  Here are a few
  • Physical: increase in strength, overall fitness, motor skill development, health;
  • Cognitive: increase in skills such as problem solving, creative thinking, planning, organizing, language, and overall academic success;
  • Social and Emotional: enhanced development of cooperation, sharing, turn taking, less egocentrism, increase in prosocial values and self esteem, practice of appropriate social roles.
The Importance of Dramatic Play by PBS for more info
Building your Child's Imagination Here's a great site about building your child's imagination

Grab those Halloween Clearance Items or Garage Sale Treasures!
So as your out and about this week consider grabbing a few items on those clearance aisles to add to your collection of dress up items and find things that work for many characters.  The Dollar Tree also tends to carry items throughout the year to add to your Dress Up collection and the Dollar Spot at Target. 

Coloring Sheets for Toy Story You can use these for story prompts too!
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