Books to Prepare Toddlers for a New Baby

**Hey everyone, Lyndsey here! I wanted to introduce you to an integral woman behind the scenes here at Treehouse Schoolhouse. You may not know it, but my sister-in-law, Gabby, has been working alongside me doing all of the graphic design, website maintenance, and printable content. I am so excited to introduce you to her and to hear from her on the blog today, as she shares from a different place in life than I am.**

My husband and I currently have a 22-month old daughter, Emilia, and we are thrilled to be expecting our second child in December! Emmy is getting to an age where she notices babies in public and loves playing with baby dolls. So, I figured she’s old enough to begin to understand the new baby on the way. I scoured the internet for books to help explain the big changes coming.

I found a great collection of books that start by explaining mama’s growing belly, show her what to expect when the new baby comes home, and get her excited about becoming a Big Sister!

Here are some of our favorites:

Waiting for Baby, Rachel Fuller

This book does an excellent job explaining the changes happening to mom as her belly grows. There’s even a page where mom is shown sleeping on the couch while Dad serves dinner – ha how true to life is that! It also shows what happens when Mommy and Daddy leave for the hospital. I love that the pictures aren’t gender specific, so you can easily read this book with a big sister or brother.

My New Baby, Rachel Fuller

First time siblings are in for some big changes when the new baby comes, and this book helps prepare them. The pictures show mommy nursing the baby almost constantly, and encourages older siblings to be quiet while the baby is sleeping. This is by far Emmy’s favorite book, as we replace the pronouns in the book with her name. I say, “Look Emmy is holding the new baby!” and she begs me to read it again and again.

I am a Big Sister, Caroline Jayne Church (also available in I am a Big Brother)

I imagine this book will be especially helpful once the new baby comes or for older children. It really gets older siblings excited about taking on new responsibilities in the house by fetching diapers and helping with bath time. It makes my heart melt just imagining my two little ones growing up together.

We’ve also been doing lots of role play with Emmy’s baby dolls practicing rocking, nursing, and changing the baby. Emmy now wants to kiss the baby in mama’s belly every night before bed and even includes him in her nightly prayers.

I hope you find these ideas helpful if you have another child on the way. What are some other books you’ve found helpful to explain new siblings?

Curriculum Review: The Peaceful Preschool

We have been using The Peaceful Preschool curriculum now for about 4 months, so I thought I would pause here and give an honest review so far for those considering it or who may be starting it this Fall. If you’re not familiar, The Peaceful Preschool is a simple to follow and beautifully laid out preschool curriculum that brings you through the alphabet, with a weekly plan for each letter in addition to a book list. The curriculum also includes activities for fine motor skills, counting skills, practical life skills, large motor skills, and art skills.

I personally wanted to stretch the curriculum to a year, so I extend each letter unit to two weeks instead of one. For the first week of each letter, I follow The Peaceful Preschool’s themes, suggested books, and most of the activities. For the second week, I choose another theme and books that correlate with the letter that were not covered in the first week. I develop these lessons almost purely from Pinterest. You can follow my Pinterest account here.

So far, I have been very impressed with The Peaceful Preschool. Here are my favorite things about the curriculum:

The lesson prep is simple. Besides gathering library books, a few supplies, and looking over the lesson for the day, the prep is minimal. This is perfect for those who have older children or lead busy lives. It also sets you up to add more to it if you wanted to without killing yourself on the planning side.

The materials are basic. The activities often require minimal to no supplies that you wouldn’t already have around the house. And if an activity requires something you don’t have, there are so many options that it’s not a big deal to skip an activity.

It sets you up to incorporate schooling into everyday life.I love that so many of the lesson activities are things like “bake a pie together” or “practice climbing a tree”. Facilitating connection and a love for learning in daily activities is vitally important at this early age.

The booklist is excellent. Tried and true book suggestions for each letter of the alphabet from mamas who have gone ahead of me in homeschooling is invaluable. They have chosen books that are creative, beautifully illustrated, and full of life. There is also a good range of comprehension levels in the list, which I have found useful in schooling a younger and older preschooler at the same time.

You gain a community support group. There is a private Facebook group for anyone who has purchased The Peaceful Preschool or their kindergarten curriculum, The Playful Pioneers. I refer to this group often, as people ask many helpful questions or give supplemental ideas to complement the curriculum. The author of the curriculum, Jennifer Pepito, is often on there as well, sharing insight and answering questions.

It’s a great foundation.It is certainly enough to stand alone, don’t get me wrong, but if you are like me and want to add in more lessons specific to what your children are interested in or need extra help on, it is a great beginning point in all subject areas.

It’s affordable. I wasn’t sure how my kids would take to the curriculum and if I personally would enjoy it enough to use it all the way through to Z (I know now that I will!). I was amazed at how much was included for the price that it is. It was well worth the investment.

If I had to think of something I wish there was more of in the curriculum, it would be Bible-related lessons. There are some, but I am on a hunt to find a supplemental preschool Bible curriculum to make it a larger part of what we are learning in these early years. I plan to continue onto The Playful Pioneers once my son is ready for kindergarten. I have seen photos of lessons and heard incredible things about it in the private group.

If you want to try it out, you can download the first week of The Peaceful Preschool or The Playful Pioneers for free.

Now through July 30th, Treehouse Schoolhouse readers can get 20% off your purchase of The Peaceful Preschool curriculum using the code: SUMMER at checkout.

Step-by-Step Cardboard Playhouse

My mom recently called me with one purpose: to tell me that she got a new IKEA couch. She had saved the enormous box specifically for me, knowing she could count on me to turn it into something fun for her grandkids. She knows me almost too well – so does my husband. That’s why when we went to family dinner the following Sunday, he wasn’t too surprised to find himself rearranging the minivan and shoving a ten foot box into the back of it. We had to fold it and break it down a bit, but eventually we got it all home.

I considered creating a castle or a boat, but after much scrolling and pinning I decided to create a little cardboard village. I narrowed in on an eclectic little home, a modern large library with a bookshelf inside, and a little grocery market. I know I can’t knock this all out at the same time, but I plan to build on it over time since I have the cardboard for it! Here are a couple of the cardboard playhouses that inspired this project:

We have a split-level home with a long, narrow downstairs space that needs a lot of beautifying work. It has been a wonderful sensory play space for the kids. I am working on cleaning out some furniture down there that doesn’t get enough use for the space it’s taking up. Besides, where will the cardboard village reside if silly couches are in the way? Until I have enough space for it all, I decided to start with the little house.

I did half of this project outside in the shade while the kids played in the plastic pool and sandbox. I finished the rest of it one evening after they went to bed. I think it took me a total of 3-4 hours. Below, I’ve given you a materials list and then broken it down for you in steps.

MATERIALS:

  • Large pieces of cardboard

  • Duct tape

  • Measuring tape

  • Box cutter and blades

  • Spray adhesive

  • Fabric (large enough pieces to cover the sides of your playhouse)

  • Hot glue and sticks

  • Other embellishments such as a cabinet knob, paint, or fake flowers

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Lay your large pieces of cardboard out, and cut two rectangles of the same width and height. Mine happened to be 25″x34″, but you can work with whatever size cardboard you have.

  2. Cut out two more rectangular pieces with a triangle on top that are the same size (this should look like a pentagon or sides of a house). The height of all four pieces need to be the same, but these two can be narrower or wider than the previously cut rectangles, depending on how wide or narrow you want your house. I used the measuring tape to be sure the triangle was centered. My pieces measured 34″x34″, and my triangle was 14″ high from the top of the rectangle.
  3. Cut out your windows and door using the box cutter.

  4. Cover each side of the house with fabric. I used spray adhesive to do this, and it worked well. I used different colors of fabric for each side, only because I didn’t have enough fabric in my scrap bin to do it all the same. You could also use paint, wallpaper, or just let your kids color it!

  5. Duct tape all four walls together. I had to crawl inside and have my husband hold each wall for me to tape the seams shut. In some areas I used hot glue to reinforce the seams.

  6. Cut a rectangle for the roof, fold it, and hot glue it on. Add shingles if you would like. This was the most time consuming part, but they turned out so cute. I just cut out rectangles and used hot glue to attach them.

  7. Add embellishments. I added painted window frames, curtains, a cabinet knob for a door knob, and window flower boxes with fake flowers.

In one week this little house has been a flower shop, a puppet stage, and a market. Every stuffed animal in the house has been inside and it has been played with way more hours than it took creating it. I call that a win! I will update this post once the rest of the village is created.

Open-Ended Play Must-Haves

Open-ended play is play that allows children to express themselves freely and creatively. It is the type of play that there are no rules to follow and no pressure to produce a specific finished product. Over time, I have minimized our toy selection down to only a small amount of open-ended toys, with the exception of puzzles and this letter sound toy. It is also the only toy we own that requires batteries. My reasoning for this is that I would rather my children be the ones making the firetruck siren or the moo of the cow as they are playing.

There is certainly value in some “close-ended” activities such as puzzles and board games. For the majority though, I find that because open-ended toys have multiple uses, they encourage much more imagination, spur on creativity, and engage children longer.

Here are my Must-Haves for Open Ended Play:

Blocks– In our house blocks have been used time and time again as towers, barns, dog houses, and many more things. My son has had these wooden blocks since he was barely crawling and still plays with them regularly. We recently got these big interlocking blocks and love them as well! If your child has developed enough fine motor skills, smaller blocks like these are also great.

Playdough and clay– We enjoy making our own playdough, but this natural dye clay is also a really quality set if you prefer to buy yours. You can find my DIY playdough recipe here. Our favorite playdough tools include this ALEX toys wooden tool set and this Melissa and Doug dough and tool set.

Baby dolls and accessories– My daughter plays with babies every single day. We had a “Baby Doll Brunch” for her second birthday and she got all stocked up on every baby doll accessory she needs to take great care of all of her babies. Some of her favorites are this stroller, this baby carrier, baby bottles, a rocking chair, a baby bed, blankets, pacifiers, and a high chair.

Stuffed animals and puppets– We have a huge box of random stuffed animals that we have collected over the years and a similar puppet set. My kids give them voices and names and stories. They often play puppet show, tea party, or picnic with a bunch of their animal friends.

Art supplies– We incorporate art and crafts into specific homeschool lessons, but we use the same materials for free playtime as well. I’ve compiled a list of our favorite art supplies. In addition to this list, my kids love drawing on our easel.

Play kitchen and accessories– We have the IKEA play kitchen in my daughter’s room and it gets a lot of use! We love this dish set, these pots and pans, and any play food by Melissa & Doug. I have also picked up wooden kitchen bowls and utensils from garage sales and thrift stores to add to her kitchen as well.

Dress-up clothes– This can be anything from Daddy’s shoes or a blanket cape, to a doctor set. We have a princess dress, a dinosaur costume, sunglasses, pearls, purses, firefighter helmet, and more little dress-up accessories that are always being used.

Toy animals and mini replicas – Miniature real-life toy replicas are probably the most used item on this list in both schooling and playtime. We use them to act out stories, for letter sound matching, categorization, in playdough, and many other ways. I am slowly collecting different animal groups, but so far we have these dinosaurs and these sea creatures. I also love these jumbo farm animals from Learning Resources. I recently also got these fruits/veggies and flowers and created 3-Part Cards to match them for our garden theme. This post offers the free matching printable and other ideas to use them.

Tent or fort– Of course this could be made from blankets and chairs, but we got this play tent with a tunnel for our kids for Christmas last year. I have been amazed at how many ways my children have creatively played with it. The tent has been the Three Little Pigs’ house, a library, the post office, and many more things. They also like to bring books in it and “read” with a flashlight.

Marble Run– My kids absolutely love this marble run. We got it about a month ago and they haven’t stopped creating pathways for the marbles. It has been neat watching them learn what works and doesn’t work as they build, and having to work as a team to create.

Household items– Last but not least, some of the best toys for open-ended play are everyday household items! More than toys, you will usually find my kids playing with blankets as capes or fort walls, our clothing for dress-up, cardboard boxes for cars or boats, and the list goes on. Try to look around your home through the lens of a child. You’ll be surprised what you see.

I hope that gives you some ideas if you are leaning towards a more simplistic, open-ended play atmosphere for your household. What are your children’s favorite toys that encourage imagination and creativity? I would love to hear!

Preschool Bookclub Playdate: Go Dog, Go!

This week we have been reading Go Dog, Go! By P.D. Eastman (Dr. Seuss). It’s an adorable book that teaches positions, prepositions, and colors. Throughout the story, a whole slew of dogs are making their way to a big tree. Once they get there, they all climb up a huge ladder to join a great big dog party. Loads of dogs with party hats, treats, playing games and having a grand ol’ time. Mixed into this plot is a dog continually asking another dog if she likes his hat, to which she always replies “No, I do not like your hat!” Then they say their good-byes and part ways. Until the end when her hat is decorated like crazy with streamers, flowers, and random things and when she asks him one final time his response is “I do. What a hat! I like it! I like that party hat!”

I thought it would be fun to mix things up and invite some friends for a “Dog Party” like in the story. We asked them each to bring a stuffed dog along. We started our playdate by gathering in a circle to read the story. Then I led them in a traffic light song with some simple sign language motions. There is a stoplight a few times in the story when the dogs are traveling around in cars, so I thought this would be a fun theme to bring in.

Twinkle, Twinkle Traffic Light

On the corner shining bright

Red means STOP

Green means GO

Yellow means go very SLOW

Twinkle, Twinkle Traffic Light

On the corner shining bright

Then we gathered at the table and decorated some party hats. I offered a bunch of random supplies like feathers, pom-poms, sequins, gems, and ribbons. I had regular white glue available to the kids and a hot glue gun plugged in away from the kids for any moms that wanted to glue something a little trickier on for their child.

While they were decorating their hats I melted and mixed together the chocolate and peanut butter for the Puppy Chow. You can find the exact recipe I used here. I doubled this recipe to feed 9 kids a good amount and some mamas too. If you have never had it before, it’s so incredibly delicious. I feel like it’s a childhood staple. A few kids helped me stir it up with the Rice Chex when they had finished their hats. Then, one by one the kids came and held open up a big zipper bag for me to scoop in some Puppy Chow and sprinkle in the powdered sugar. We zipped it back up, leaving some air in there and then they shook the bags to coat the Rice Chex.

We listened to music, snacked on our Puppy Chow, blew party blowers, and wore our freshly decorated party hats. Then the kids played with their stuffed dogs, these large blocks, and a big barn we have had for ages. They built towers and buildings for the dogs and pretended the barn was a dog house. Lots of fun imaginative, cooperative play was happening!

We ended our playdate by going outside for some Red Light, Green Light. We used the red, green, and yellow blocks to hold up as a visual cue to support the auditory cue. I feel like this really helped the young ones who had never played before catch on to the game. They took turns being the leader, holding up the blocks, and calling out the direction.

It was such an inexpensive, low-prep morning and the kids had so much fun! I love making books come alive for my kids and it’s even better to invite others along too. I’m already dreaming up our next Book Club Playdate!

 

The Softest, Simplest No-Cook Playdough

It is a rainy week, which means our outside adventuring plans for the next few days have been canceled. Usually this means the kids and I do lots of baking, but it’s the beginning of bathing suit season and I am so not ready. I still wanted to have us all come together around the dining room table to work on something to beat the rainy day blues, so I decided it was a good time for a fresh batch of my favorite DIY playdough.

I am not afraid of letting my kids mix colors or create something and leave it out to dry up and eventually get tossed. I am also known for encouraging them to use natural materials like sticks and rocks in their creations, so once the creating is over, that portion of dough gets tossed. Making our own playdough is so incredibly cheap in comparison to store-bought that it allows me to not fret about “wasted” dough in the name of creativity! Also, it is completely edible, so when your child makes a plate of green beans that look so real that your other child actually takes a bite while playing, you don’t have to freak out. He will spit it out, though. It tastes super salty, but at least you know all of the ingredients that went in his mouth.

Here’s my go-to recipe. This makes a great amount. I usually divide it into 6-8 parts and color them differently. Most of these items I pick up at the grocery store, the cheapest store-brand. But the food coloring and the cream of tartar I have found the best prices on Amazon. I use food coloring for lots of baking and crafts so I’ve linked to a large set with lots of colors.

As for essential oils, I get mine from Gina, a sweet homeschool mama, at http://fitoilsmomma.com/. I’ve also offered Amazon links if that’s your preference. This time, I used Wild Orange and Peppermint oil for the energizing elements on a dreary day, but I have also used Lavender in other batches for more of a calming experience.

The Softest, Simplest No-Cook Playdough

Adapted from Momspotted.com

Ingredients:

  • 4 Cups of Flour

  • 1 Cup of Salt

  • 1/4 Cup of Vegetable Oil

  • 1/4 Cup of Cream of Tartar

  • 3 Cups Boiling Water

  • Food Coloring

  • 20-30 drops of essential oils (optional)

Instructions:

1. Combine flour, salt, cream of tartar & oil in a large bowl. I usually have my water boiling while I do this step.

2. Add in boiling water and stir. I start with a wooden spoon, but I change over to using my hands once it cools a little to knead it all together.

3. Add in the essential oil and knead again.

4. Flatten out the ball as evenly as possible and cut it with a butter knife into 6-8 parts, depending on how many colors you would like to make.

5. Place each section in a zipper bag with drops of food coloring and zip shut, pressing the air out of the bag. Knead the color into the dough. I usually take it out of the bag once it is kneaded in a little bit and continue to knead with my hands. Starting it off in the bag helps eliminate food coloring stains on your hands. Another option is to use the paddle attachment on a kitchen mixer.

This is a great activity to get your little ones involved in. There is much to be learned in measuring, stirring, kneading, color mixing, and counting drops!

Playdough is a great sensory activity and so much open-ended play comes from smooshing, rolling, imagining, and creating. This ALEX Toys kit is one of our go-to playdough tools. They’re pricier than the plastic pieces, but wooden toys are always more durable and let’s be honest, more aesthetically pleasing when they’re sprawled all over your kitchen table.

Letter Recognition & Formation Strategies

In our homeschool preschool rhythm, my children and I spend two weeks learning each letter of the alphabet. As we move through the alphabet, we also review previously learned letters. Each week, we repeat these 8 solid strategies to expose new letters and practice their formation. I find that familiarity with the activities allows my children to focus on learning the letters, rather than how to master a new activity. At this point in their schooling, my goal is simply to expose them to the letters and their sounds and give them the invitation to practice forming them.

We usually do 2-3 of these activities each day that we have structured school time. For us, that is typically four days a week. I expose them to both the uppercase and the lowercase letters the first week, but when it comes to formation activities we do uppercase the first week and add in lowercase the second week.

1. Sandpaper Letter Tracing – I show them these cards for each letter we are learning, and then I model how to form the letter using my index finger and then an unsharpened pencil. My children then repeat what I just demonstrated.

2. Sensory Writing Tray – I often use salt for this, but sometimes I use similar items instead to go with the theme we are learning. I recently did birdseed when we studied birds and sugar mixed with sprinkles when we were reading books about cupcakes. First, I pour the sensory item onto a cookie sheet and provide a half sheet of cardstock with the letter printed on it for them to look at as they play. I model how to form the letters with my index finger on the tray. After writing a letter they lightly shake the tray to have a “clean slate” to write again. Oftentimes they will use the cardstock letter and bury it and then uncover it with their fingers.

3. White Erase Tracing – These dry erase pockets are one of my favorite supplies we have! I print an outline of the letter and slip it into the pocket. I model to the children how to form the letter using a dry erase marker and then give them a chance to try. Sometimes, my four year old does it correctly and sometimes they both just color the letter in with markers. Either way, they are watching me write it and say it and getting exposure to it. The curriculum I use comes with letter outlines, but here are some I found if you are not using the same curriculum.

4. Clay Forming – Using the same dry erase pockets with letter outline inserts and clay or playdough, I encourage my children to pinch pieces off and roll it into long strips. They then form the letter on top of the pocket. Sometimes I offer small items for them to press into the clay or playdough that start with the letter we are learning. We did coins for C. They pressed them in all around the clay letter and then pick them out over and over again.

5. Stamp It, Poke It, Write It – I get these printables from Simply Learning. She offers them for free with each letter unit. We have these capital letter stamps and these lowercase ones. My kids love stamping the correlating letters for the Stamp It section. Then, they use large push pins to poke the small circles in the Poke It section. I place the printable on a piece of foam board and tape down the corners of the paper for this. We have been using the same piece of foam for over a year. They aren’t ready for the Write It! Section yet, so I just point out what the word says.

6. 3-Part Cards – Nomenclature cards, or 3-Part Cards, are simply images with corresponding labels. They really help my children learn the letter sounds and have been one of the major factors in my son beginning to read. I wrote a blog post about how we use them in our schooling here. I currently make these cards to correlate with the letters we are working on. You can download these free printable 3-Part Cards here.

7. Handwriting Without Tears Letter Blocks – I discovered these materials when I was teaching a special needs child how to form letters. He went from absolutely hating writing to writing full stories in just a few months. They are certainly an investment, but I knew I would use them for years with multiple children. I have seen how incredibly they work, so it is worth it to me. We currently use the Capital Letter Wooden Blocks and the Capital Letter Cards. I lay the wood pieces out and give my children the cards. Then I ask them to choose which pieces they think they need and they build the letter on top of the card. Then we flip the card over and work through it together.

8. Chalkboard Write and Wipe – This is also a Handwriting Without Tears method that I learned while teaching. I model the entire process, then they repeat. First, I write the letter on a small slate. Then I dip a little square sponge into water and squeeze the excess water out. Finally, I erase the letter in the same way that it is written. My kids love it, the repetition is gold, and the pincer grasp gets a lot of work.

What letter formation activities do you use at home? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!