This weekend my husband and I took our kids to west Texas for a family reunion. Each year, my dad’s extended family has a weekend long family reunion at a local church camp. The camp has a large dining hall with a commercial kitchen, cabins and RV hookups, swimming pool and playground. It is a wonderful place for a large group to meet up for several days.
The dining hall was the hub for the weekend’s family fun. Family members congregated before meals and lingered long after meals were eaten. Many conversations were had and games played around those tables.
There were approximately 50 people there over the course of the weekend and I probably knew less than half of them. I can’t actually remember the last time I went to one of the family reunions. It’s got to be at least over ten years!
It took Kora all of five seconds to make friends with the other kid cousins. She is two years younger than the youngest of the cousins. Most of the other kids were in the 8-11 year old range. Luckily, the age difference didn’t stop all the kids from playing together.
On Saturday morning, Kora and my mom found a baseball bat and a small wiffle ball and started to play a game of baseball. It didn’t take long before the big kids jumped in and started to play too. The big kids were very patient with Kora as she tried to hit the ball and then encouraged her as she ‘ran the bases’.
During the baseball game, Kora did something that completely baffled me. When it was her turn, she picked up the bat, that was nearly as long as she is, and tapped the ground like baseball players tap home plate. I couldn’t imagine where she had learned that behavior. We’re not big baseball fans, so we don’t go to games or watch baseball on TV. I asked her how she learned to do that and she simply replied, “George.”
Curious George! Of course she learned it from Curious George! Kora is a little sponge and she absorbs and remembers everything she sees and hears. It amazes me when she starts talking about something that happened months ago. One day I was talking to her about planets and I was trying to use the cartoon Ready Jet Go to help her make a connection to what I was explaining. She then starts talking about how “My dentist has Jet Propulsion.” Why does she remember that her dentist’s office had that cartoon on the TV during her appointment four months ago? That’s such a random thing to remember, but she recalled it as if it happened yesterday.
The other day as I was driving the girls to a playdate, Kora was playing with her toys in the backseat. I hear her talking about steam. She tells her toys that steam is just water. I ask her who taught her about steam. Her response? “Timon.” As in Timon, the meerkat, from Lion King. (Technically, Kora has never seen The Lion King. She watches The Lion King 1 & 1/2)
Seeing how much she absorbs makes me want to constantly surround her with new information and new experiences. It also makes me want to shield her from any and all inappropriate content that we might run across. I cringe when I hear something on a commercial that I feel a 3 year old doesn’t need to hear, hoping she doesn’t start repeating it. With Kora, she might not repeat it today; she might start repeating it in a couple of weeks.
I know it’s starting to sound like Kora spends all her time watching television, but that’s simply not true. She does love to watch cartoons, but we do limit her screen time. And we try to make sure that if she is going to watch cartoons, at least they have good teachers like George and Timon.
Think about your parents for a minute. Are there some phrases or things they said to you or your siblings repeatedly? When I think about my mom and dad, here are a few of the things that stand out to me:
“Dang, Tina!” – A cross between “Dang, Gina” from the sitcom Martin and Tina the llama from Napoleon Dynamite.
“You’re killing me, James” – my mom mistakenly quoting Sandlot
“I love a challenge” – my mom anytime my siblings or I said we weren’t doing something she told us to do.
Well, now thanks to my mom, Kora loves a challenge too. It all started a couple of weeks ago when we went to visit the grandparents. Kora and two of her cousins were playing in the yard with my mom. She started giving them challenges that they needed to complete:
- Run and touch three trees and come back
- Run and touch something red and come back
- Sit in two different chairs and come back
I was completely surprised by how much the kids enjoyed these challenges – they were begging for more. It’s always the simplest things that the kids seem to love most. (My mom always joked that as kids we would always compliment her more on her dinners of macaroni and cheese with BBQ hot dogs than on meals where she would slave away in the kitchen.)
The next day, while playing inside, Kora and her cousins asked for some more challenges. I will admit that some of the challenges were legitimate and some of the challenges were used to help clean up the toy area a little – ‘I challenge you to find three blue toys and put them on the shelf’. I did challenge the five year old to find a toy shaped like a triangle. He searched for a little while and then he found a toy fence that he shaped into a triangle – clever little guy!
Since our visit, Kora has continued to ask me for challenges. Anywhere we go, she wants a challenge. We went to a splash pad with some friends one day, and I think she got one of her friends hooked on challenges. They had so much fun filling a bucket and dumping it on their heads and getting splashed by three different sprayers.
We’ve done challenges at the park and challenges at the mall. Here’s Kora trying to make a tower of checkers:
Completing challenges is one of those activities that I absolutely love. It can be done anywhere, you just adapt the challenge to your environment. It can also be played with any number of people and any age range can be challenged. The challenges can also be used as a learning tool. The challenges can ask kids to find a certain number of items (counting) or to find certain shapes, colors, letters, etc. Outdoor challenges are a great way for kids to get exercise as well as improve coordination and balance.
I challenge you to use Challenges with your kid this week. But fair warning: they might get addicted! I’d love to hear how you used challenges with your family.
My three year old has recently become curious about where she lives. She’s also become a little obsessed with spotting flags when we’re driving around town. I decided that I would make her a little book that included her town, state, and country as well as the corresponding flags.
I learned how to make these super simple mini books while teaching elementary school, and I used them all the time in my classroom. My students always liked when we did our assignments in extreme sizes – miniature or jumbo, so I knew Kora would love her book too.
I quickly made her book while she was taking her afternoon nap (oh how I drew a simple map of her town that included our house, the library, Aggieland, and her dad’s work. On the next double page spread I drew the state of Texas and the Texas flag. I drew little stick figures in a house to represent Kora and her sister at home and then more stick figures for both sets of her grandparents. This way she can have an idea of where her family lives in relation to her home. The last spread was an outline of the United States that included an outline of Texas and a little house to represent home. I also drew a little American flag (I will admit that when I drew it I did not take the time to count the stripes or draw all the stars. I just wanted to get the general image down).
When Kora woke up from nap, she was so excited about her book. She played with it all afternoon. She kept showing me over and over where she lived and how to get to Dad’s work. She found an urgent need to FaceTime Grandma to show off her book. She continued to play with her book for the next several days.
Then she asked me where Africa was in her book. Uh oh. I had to throw together a quick world map on the back (please don’t laugh at my lack of artistic abilities). She’s been asking us to take her to Africa for a while now so she can see the animals. She keeps telling her dad we need a plane.
She enjoyed her first mini book so much I made her another one about her and one of her friends. I added simple sentences so that she can read it herself. She is so proud of her friend book, and she carries it around with her in her adventure bag.
Since Kora is really enjoying her book and since they’re a great teaching resource, I thought I’d take a minute to show you how to make them. They’re super quick and simple and you can use them for any topic/subject imaginable.
Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half hot dog style. You can use any kind of paper – I used manila and regular copy paper. Once you have your paper folded in half, fold it in half hamburger style twice.
Next, open your paper all the way up and fold it in half hamburger style. You’re going to then cut halfway down the middle of the paper, starting at the folded edge and following the crease. I drew a pink line to illustrate where you need to cut.
Once you have made your cut, unfold your paper and refold it hot dog style. Holding the two ends, gently push the paper together like an accordion, then crease all the edges. Fold your book in half hamburger style one more time, and your book is complete. I tape the edges of the book together to make it easier for Kora to flip pages, but that’s not necessary.