On The Clock

  Monday afternoons are a testament to this busy mom’s ability to juggle schedules and various after-school personalities, as we begin our foray into dragging siblings along to one child’s extracurricular activity without the other two losing their damn minds.  I know I am just dipping my toes into the sea of insanity, so I’m glad we’re taking baby steps, but the pressure (to remember all the gear, to bring food no one hates or already ate that day, to bring books, toys and my cell phone charger for all manner of distractions…) is real. On Mondays, Little H and I peel into the elementary school parking lot, grab the big kids and head south to make it to Em’s ballet class just in time.  Their school teachers and I barely make eye contact before the kids are dragged out the door by the handle of their backpacks and herded through the parking lot to the van I left running so we can get in and go (if I haven’t even just parked illegally in front of the school and left Little H in the car to shave precious seconds off our time).  There are updates on our days to share, Purell to be passed around and snacks to be desperately devoured (do these children eat at all during the day at school?), and various forms of entertainment to be doled out to the biggest and littlest once we arrive at the dance studio, all before my attention turns to my tiny dancer, because we are on the clock.  Costume change, bun in place, ballet shoes on and she scurries upstairs to take her place at the barre before I have even had a chance to take off my coat.  Half the time I am still stabbing bobby pins into her hair at random as she is halfway up the stairs, Jax’s voice already echoing behind me that he is bored.  The only thing that gets me through it all are glimpses of this through the classroom window, that make it worth the sweat and tears (mostly mine).

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Once back downstairs, the natives have already begun to grow restless, and beyond Little H’s willingness to play PJ Masks for hours on end (“To the Cat Car!”), I usually come to ballet armed with a bag full of new library books to appease Jax and all manner of distractions for Little H.  This past Monday I knew was going to be unseasonably warm, so Jax, Little H and I took a walk around the neighborhood to enjoy some February fresh air and earn me a breather from little people begging to use my cell phone.

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The sky was gray with no sunshine to be found, and even as the sun sunk lower to the horizon and the chill began to penetrate my wimpy bones, Jax and Little H were having a blast.  Could outside play be the key to my Monday afternoon survival?  Since the two of them have only finally begun to find a middle ground–mostly centered around a shared love for Transformers Rescue Bots–and it’s freaking winter and freezing dark outside before ballet is even over, I have not really attempted this tactic before.  I forced myself to man up and stay outside as long as they wanted to see how this experiment would play out.

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The playground was a soggy mess from all the rapidly melting snow, but to my kids, all the world’s a stage, with plenty of imagination at their fingertips, With Jax in rare Patient and Engaging Older Brother form, and Little H not telling him to take a hike as per usual, these two didn’t need me at all.  When they discovered an actual stage, just perfect for an elaborate performance of Rescue Bots: The Dance Party Variety Show, I was in for quite a treat.

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Jax was born to emcee.

Their play was so elaborate and Little H’s dance moves so comical, I actually was sorry for it to end, even if I was shivering.  Stupid winter.  Never fear, I assume I will be attending Part II of this epic saga next week at about the same time, and will keep you posted on the dramatic conclusion of Which Bot Is The Fastest and What Will Boulder Paint This Week?  Ah, the fleeting joys of motherhood.  Cue the nonstop whining that they are hungry for dinner in 3…2….1…

Such is life in this slushy part of the year, with three kids all on the threshold of big extracurricular things.  Mud season appears to have arrived early, and I will attempt to appreciate these wintery afternoons while I have them, while dreaming of green grass and picnic dinners after ballet (even if that would require one more thing for me to remember to pack!).  I’m glad to have found a bit of a key to surviving the Extracurricular Activity Chaos Black Hole, and will try to look on the bright side and appreciate the chance for Jax and Little H to carve out some time together…at least while they’re getting along!

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School Is In Session

We had a four day weekend last week, but that didn’t stop my kids from declaring school in session!

It started with Jax experimenting with baking soda and vinegar while I was still in my pajamas and eating my breakfast.  It was an entertaining meal to say the least!  Quite educational.

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I was proud of my little mad scientist, who set up the entire experiment himself, but had to put a stop to his explosive tendencies when the mess took on a life of its own.

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I suggested to him and Em that since it was frigid outside and they had lots of big ideas of how they wanted to spend their day, Why don’t you set up a school?  Little H and your many creepy dolls could be your students.  They loved the idea and just like that, I had the table to myself again as they ran off to set it all up.

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Em made the “schedule:” Math, Music, Gym, Library, Art, Science, Home.  If you need help following along, just follow the light saber pointer for assistance.

I was pleased that they insisted on starting the day with the Pledge of Allegiance…

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…and then Jax took over for some early morning math work.  The girls were an attentive audience.

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I had to insist to Jax that he keep the math equations basic, and Em was happy to help her little sister when she was stuck on an answer.

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Star student!

Then Em got out the instruments for a little bit of music, It’s The Hard Knock Life from “Annie,” to be exact.  As always, we are ever-so-grateful to Uncle Chris for Little H’s trumpet.  As delightfully deafening as ever!

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Music was followed by Mr. Jax’s gym class, which began with five laps around the house for warm ups and then a rousing game of hopscotch.

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Then it was time for a super Pinterest science experiment fail with Teacher Mommy: supposedly if you fill two glasses with colored water and place a tightly wrapped paper towel in, the color will “travel” up the paper towel and fill the middle glass with the secondary color revealed when you combine the original two colors.  We tried several hyphothoses–more water, less water, water in the middle, increased length of time, thinner paper towels, shorter paper towels… You name it, we attempted it.  The only conclusion to be drawn from this experiment was this: Pinterest lies.  Or our paper towels are just too damn absorbent.  Inconclusive findings at this point.  Definitely wasn’t Mommy’s fault.

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At least it was pretty.

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To disguise my Pinterest failure, I announced it was snack time and Jax read a story to the students during Library.

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Miss Em really came to life when she was teaching art, actually communicating to her “students” rather than shuffling shyly around in front of them as she had before.  She even had real projects in mind and helped Little H with her work.  Art is definitely where she shines.

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And right before the bell rang, there was choice time.  Jax and Little H decided some dress-up and theatrical play was in order.

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If this is what their days are like in school, I can’t believe they aren’t following asleep in their suppers.  What an exhausting (and completely entertaining!) day of school! I’m so pleased that they love their school and teachers so much that they want to be just like them.  Makes my teacher-on-hiatus heart happy.

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Painting With Cars To Welcome Spring!

Spring is finally here!  Time to paint the house colorful, in an unusual way.

Painting With Cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Yes, I know that just because spring has officially sprung, it doesn’t mean that the sun will immediately come out and melt all our mounds of snow away.  But even if I only hear the birds chirping in my mad dash from my warm house to my warm car, I can still make it feel more festive and colorful inside!

In an attempt to change things up (and hopefully keep their attention longer), the girls and I pilfered some of Jax’s matchbox cars while he was at school and got ready to create some colorful art. We’ve done this before and it was a huge hit!  I got one car for every paint color and spread the paint out on butcher paper so the girls could drive the vehicles from the paint to the paper with very little reach and fuss.

Painting with cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It

The trickiest part is encouraging the kids to keep the paint separate so that you don’t end up with a brown muddy blob.  Then let them pick a color, drive their car through its matching paint blob, and drive a rainbow to their heart’s content!

Painting With Cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Painting with cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It

With all these color choices at her fingertips, it was no surprise what Em decided to paint.

Painting With Cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It Painting With Cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Little H was a little more abstract and mostly just thrilled to get her hands dirty.

Painting With Cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It Painting with cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It Painting With Cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Even Mommy made one. I couldn’t resist!

Painting With Cars @ Rub Some Dirt On It

And don’t forget about the added bonus–they get to wash the cars when all the artwork is done, taking this springtime craft to a fabulous new level!  Your house has new art, the mess is cleaned up, and everyone has had a ton of fun.  It’s spring!  Let’s celebrate!

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Coffee Filter Snowflakes & Snowmen

As if we don’t have enough snow around here, the kids wanted to add some more, just for fun!  I didn’t think cutting snowflakes out of coffee filters would be so completely engaging for Jax and Em, but they literally made dozens of them.  So many, in fact, that we sent them along to family with their Valentines!  Spreading Vermont snow near and far!

Coffee Filter Snowflakes @ Rub Some Dirt On It

The kids had tried to make snowflakes out of paper before, but grew frustrated easily when they had difficulty cutting through folded paper.  With the coffee filters, it was so much easier!  We folded the paper various ways, but three folds seemed to be the perfect size for them to manipulate.

Coffee Filter Snowflakes @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Then I gave them a large bowl for the scraps and some safety scissors and they went to work.  Nicely.  Quietly.  No arguing.  Why don’t I do this every day?

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Before I knew it, our home was a winter wonderland, inside and out!

And Em had a great idea all on her own.  She turned three coffee filters into a snowman, with a few construction paper accessories to add realism.  I was so proud of her for coming up with a unique project by herself.  She is definitely my little artist.

Coffee Filter Snowman @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Making the most out of our many snowy days!

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Pretty Princesses

I’m so glad Little H has embraced her inner princess and joined her sister in the dress up club.  Certainly helps keep things adorable during these snowy winter days!

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Em continues to be a stellar big sister, showing Little H everything she needs to know to be perfect royalty: a kind heart, grace, a perfect smile, and, of course for these girls, perfect accessories!

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Days like this are pretty much exactly what I hoped for with two little girls!  Darling little ladies.

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10 Quiet Activities To Help You Survive The Winter

A friend of mine recently asked me why my kids play so well without me.  How did I do it? she wanted to know, meaning, How did I train them to play independently?  What is the secret to getting my kids to leave me alone for five minutes?  Why don’t they go take one of their millions of toys that I’ve spent so much money on and GO PLAY?

Well, I’m no expert on this, but I do have two big kids who play really well alone and together, with just the slightest bit of prompting from me.  Without question, that little boost from mom is the key.  Every time I look up from my laptop to the sound of whiny little voices complaining they are so bored, I try to remember that it is not always their fault that they don’t know how to play independently.  It’s a skill that needs to be honed.  That’s why we still enforce quiet time where they play alone (not together) for at least 45 minutes every non-school day, why they must read independently every day, and why we really do have limits on screen time (I shoot for an hour on school days and no more than 2 hours on non-school days, trying to keep it at around 10 hours/week).  After all, how can they learn to use their imaginations if I never ask them to, and never show them how?

Of course, as I type this, Little H is next to me watching Super Why on JDubbs’s Kindle because she woke up early from her nap and I need to get this blog post finished.  So, of course I am a fan of screens and there is always an exception to every rule.  But paying attention to how often and how much your kid interacts with screens may help you in your quest to get your kids to play better on their own.

Well, enough of the lecture portion of this post.  What about practical help?  What do I do with my kids to get them to play nicely alone?  The thing is, although they end up on their own, they don’t start off that way.  In my experience, most kids need a little help getting started with prolonged independent play, and the longest activities tend to need a little parent guidance.  For example, instead of saying to your son, why don’t you play with your zillions of toy cars, help him create a race track on the floor of his bedroom to bring the fun to life.  With 5-10 minutes of prep time from you, you will receive huge returns on your investment while your kids play nicely that day and many days thereafter.  The key is helping them get started.

With that in mind, here are 10 great ideas that need just a little help from an adult on the front end, but can be put away for lots of independent play day after day thereafter. I promise they’ll be so excited to have you by their side at first, they will be all the more invested in the experience once you quietly sneak away.

10 QUIET ACTIVITIES TO HELP YOUR KIDS PLAY INDEPENDENTLY

10 Quiet Activities @ Rub Some Dirt On It

Starting in the left column and going down, then the second and third column, the blog posts are as follows:

1.  Rainbow Scavenger Hunt

2.  Puzzle Treasure Hunt

3.  Play with Popsicles & Play Dough

4.  Pom-Pom Race Through Duplo Maze

5.  Button & Pipe Cleaner Caterpillar

6.  Letters In Salt & Snipping Straws

7.  Pipe Cleaner & Pom Pom Fine Motor Fun

8.  Clothespin Literacy Fun

9.  Butcher Paper Town

10.  Pebble Art

 All of these activities need just a little help from an adult to gather materials or get the fun started, but once you do, the fun will continue on long after you excuse yourself to go get some work done, clean the house, or check your email!  And when your kids realize and are confident that they can have tons of imaginative play without you, they’ll stop coming to you with every problem or question–they’ll start solving them on their own.

 So by taking five minutes to begin the fun, you actually buy yourself much longer than that.  Just remember that imaginations need nurturing, too, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your kids grow.

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Tutu Cute!

So remember the other day how I said Little H had finally been turned on to dress up (which, by the way, is an everyday staple of existence in this house)?  Well, it looks like she’s hooked.

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I can’t even stand the cuteness!

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Okay, seriously?  What is there to say about her?  Sassy, adorable, fabulous, perfect?  Yes, all those things and more.  And mine all mine.

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And she hasn’t even realized her dress up potential yet!  Em is just getting started showing her protege the ropes of all things poofy, purple, or pink.

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Be still, my pink- or purple-poofy-loving heart!

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