Saturday, November 15, 2014

Turkey + Math

Today we started with preparing for Thanksgiving. 
As the kids get bigger they become more aware of various customs and traditions as well as the work that goes into them. They slosh ask to lend a hand. This year I let the pick out the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. While this may sound like an easy task it actually takes a bit of calculating with a regular household Japanese oven. 
The first step was to measure the oven. Ours is bigger than most but still tiny compared to a US oven. 
For the second step we went to Costco. Zilla was anxious to get his hands on a turkey so he asked for directions in the meat department and went off in search of the elusive bird. He remembered what the package looked like from last year. That was impressive!
Third step was measuring one of the smaller birds. This was a really good real life math lesson. As they measured they figured out that the length and height are different if you measure along the bird rather than measuring at the highest/longest places. Since they were using measuring tapes from Ikea which have inches on one side and centimeters on the other is was also a chance to look at the difference between those numbers.
Overall I must say that this lesson was a success! 
Tomorrow perhaps we'll calculate how long the bird needs to defrost...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Bit of Sport

We don't have much of a backyard but what we have we try to make the most of. 
On the weekends the kids love to spend some time outside. Recently they've been enjoying jumping rope and playing their own version of baseball.

Reformation Round-Up

It is time to put away the Reformation things and get out the Thanksgiving ones. Before I do that though I really need to take note of our favorite Reformation materials. I mean to do it every year and every year I forget!

Top Left: Luther's Rose / Luther's Seal from Such As These Etsy Shop and explanation page (from my parent's basement)
Top Right: Martin Luther by Paul L. Maier, Inside the Reformation from CPH and Luther's Smallest Catechism cloth book from  As These Etsy Shop
Bottom Left: Katie, Luther and the Fish Barrel from Such As These Etsy Shop
Bottom Right: People With A Message, About Martin Luther, Timeless Bible Truths, Luthers Mahlbuch

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Special Moments

Finding joy in the little moments...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Buttercream Frosting in Ninja Blender

Buttercream Frosting in my Ninja Blender

400g butter
600g powdered sugar
1tbsp vanilla

I let the butter get to room temp then blended it first. The sugar went in about 200g at a time and then the vanilla. It mixed rather nicely!


The kids have been asking to grill out again. This time they wanted to try their hand at making kabobs. Here is what we mixed for the pork & chicken marinade. 
The beef was marinaded in yakiniku sauce. 
Making kabobs is so much easier with good helpers!

1 orange, zested, then juiced, remainder discarded
1 lemon, zested, then juiced, remainder discarded
1 lime, zested, then juiced, remainder discarded
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or pork, cut into 1-inch cubes

Marinade for 2 hours

 Grill until the meat is cooked

This is the first time I've made these since the kids were born. I've been waiting for them to be big enough to be around the grill safely. Now that they are able to help I'm sure we'l have this kind of supper for often. It is so easy to make a few days worth of food in a short time on the grill!

Frozen Banana "Ice Cream"

After school snacks can be simple, healthy and yummy. Here is one of the kid's favorites!

Frozen Banana "Ice Cream"
• 4 frozen bananas
• chop bananas in Ninja blender/processor
• transfer to dish
• top with chocolate, raspberries etc.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

World Cup Teachable Moments

It is that time again... 
it happens every four years...
Much of the world is glued to the TV 
And reading the news 
To see what is going on with the World Cup.

While many Dads, and some Moms, will be busy with World Cup stuff it is easy to overlook the learning opportunities for little kids. Simple things like playing a "match the flag" game can get 2 and 3 year olds involved. Older kids can follow along with the wins/losses on a chart.  It is a great time to get out the world map to see where the different teams come from. Please share your ideas in the comments!


World Cup Wall Chart with Japan viewing times and stations

Menu from Tokyo McDonald's featuring flavors from various countries
In Japan it is common to have food deals that match up with major sporing events.  McDonald's has some interesting choices. There is a Brazil BBQ burger with a soccer ball style bun, a German Schnitzel burger, McFlurries with European flavours and a couple of drinks.  

Signs for the World Cup:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Home School

Since Zilla is gone to school all day Mega requests to do "at home school". While I'm happy to oblige there are some days I need to get work done as well so I need her to be a bit more independent.
Here is a picture of what she spent her morning doing:
A puzzle of textures and colors, lacing cards, ballet DVD and then reading a book as she fell asleep for a nap were all part of a busy, productive and apparently tiring morning!

An Average Bento Lunch

When you look up "bento" or "obento" online the results often look amazing. Many times the ones you'll see take a lot of time and effort to preare. We are a month into making daily bento lunches and in the 3rd year of making them at least a couple of times a week.
To make preparation easier on us we make some things ahead of time, use fresh cut foods and stick to simple arrangements for everyday lunches.
This is Zilla's bento on three average days. He likes tomatoes, cucumbers, and sausages the most so they often are included. Some days Zilla asks to make his bento so we try to accommodate that too.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Morning Well Spent

We've been busy getting Zilla into his new school routine which often has left Mega craving attention. She truly misses playing with him before/after school. I've been trying to be more intentional about setting aside time to play following her lead. Today she decided we'd build. There are so many lessons that can be learned from a morning spent playing with Legos. Fine motor skills, creativity, math skills... It is a classic activity for a reason!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Prepare for Success

Perhaps the most well known line in the movie Field of Dreams is "If you build it, they will come."
In the Montessori method you could say, "If you prepare it, they will do." To encourage writing and drawing we have a number of places around the house ready to display a message. The kids will often take a few minutes to write or draw but there are also times when they will get absorbed in their creations. So we have learned ~ if you prepare it, they will do!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How To Clean Bath Toys

The weather has warmed up a bit so the kids want things they can do outside. Today's main activity was scrubbing the bath toys. Cleaning has never been so fun!
While I set up, Zilla practiced bobbing - he wants to bob for apples. Mega got the sprinkler going.
To clean the toys we filled once side of the sensory table with wash water (added dish soap) and the other with rinse water. I gave each kid a sponge and off they went on their scrubbing adventure. We dried them on a bench in the sun. Perhaps next time they'll wash the duplo Legos?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spontaneous Cleaning

Lesson: Not every time kids become quiet means they are making trouble

This afternoon I was trying to get some work done on the computer when I noticed I could barely hear the kids. After a few minutes there was a racket on the stairs and I heard a comment about the vacuum. A bit later the kids came to get me saying they had a surprise to show me.
We have just one room upstairs - the family bedroom. The room also holds many of the toys I use for teaching. As I was climbing up I was wondering how bad the mess would be.... The kids asked me to close my eyes and lead me into the room. When I opened my eyes I was surprised!
The kids had made all the beds, even the top bunk, straightened up the books, put things away and even vacuumed the floor. This is the kind or surprise I like :-)
They were so proud of themselves... especially because they were able to work together to surprise me.
While I'm sure this won't become a daily activity I have to admit that sometimes when the kids get quiet a good thing can come of it!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Questions About Colors

Mega is 3 years old
Zilla is 6 years old

Lesson: TED ED and Google are great teachers!

We are in the midst of Spring Break and Zilla is full of questions! While I think that is a a great thing, he doesn't like it when I don't have a "good enough" answer.  Recently I've been answering more and more with "I'll Google it."
A question about color lead us on a journey so learn more. As we were walking home from the grocery store a couple of days ago we got onto the topic of how little kids can be hard to see when driving a car of riding a bike.  I said something about wearing bright colors so Zilla asked the obvious question - What is the easiest color to spot? We figured red was easy to notice and I heard once that human eyes are drawn to green... and this lead to a conversation about which colors to mix to make green followed by Mega wanted to know what to mix to make black and white.  My understanding of white is that is an absence of color but trying to get that into a way a 3 year old can understand did not go smoothly. The conversation about what makes colors lead to one about how we see colors and how colors work.  That is when my kid-friendly explanations ran out.  I told Zilla we would google it when we get home.

Here are some interesting links we found:

How we see color - Colm Kelleher

Optometry : How Does the Eye See Color?

The Wonderful World Of Colour

Is Your Red The Same as My Red?

As a part of our spring break activities I was already planning to have some quality outdoor painting time.  After our lessons in colours it seemed to be the perfect time!

Friday, March 7, 2014

First Star Wars

Lesson: Much to learn from Star Wars there is.
Most Friday nights the kids and I have a quiet evening at home. We often make something we enjoy eating and take turns choosing something to watch together. This week Emo was able to rearrange his schedule in order to be home in time for supper - a rare treat!
Since it is our dinner and movie night... And Pizza Hut had 2 medium pizzas for $30 (nearly 1/2 price!) we made it a special pizza & movie night. With veggie sticks, snacks and drinks at the ready we anxiously waited for Emo, and the pizza, to arrive.
This evening's special feature was Star Wars Episode 1 Phantom Menace. The kids have been aware of Star Wars but have never seen it. For Emo's 40th birthday he received a set of the movies (1 - 6) so we are going to enjoy them as a family.
Here are a few tidbits from during the movie:
- Zilla was asking about the meaning of a number or larger words. They are words he's heard but he needed to understand the meaning of to fully follow the story. It was great vocabulary building! However, at one point when he was asking for one definition after another he asked "What does... Dog... mean?" I replied with "What???" When he realized what he said he had a great laugh over that goof!
- The music in Star Wars is in tune with the events of the story. It seems that the main characters and locations each have their own little melody/sound. The music also let's you know if the good guys are ahead or the bad guys.
- There are many theological/Biblical parallels which could be pointed out. Zilla started picking up on them about half way through the movie.
- I realized that our family is Star Wars style multilinguals. There are many times when characters speak with each other, each using their own language. Think of R-2 D-2 and C3PO speaking together... They have a conversation using two languages at the same time but don't need a translator. The same thing happens with Jabba the Hutt. There are also times where two characters speaking together switch between languages in the course of a conversation. This is very much what conversations sound like at our house.
- Watching a movie with a 3 yr. old is not relaxing. While Mega does sit still at times, twice she managed to spill her drink and more often than not she was moving around and talking a bit too loud. We knew it would most likely be that way... but it was still annoying!
- Star Wars is pretty funny. While I don't think it would count as a comedy there were quite a few times when the kids were laughing out loud. That is totally different from watching the movie with other adults.
- Mega kept asking about what happenes to Anakin's mom. I had to admit that I never really thought about it before and quickly google the answer :-)
I don't know when we'll find/make time to see the next movie...
But I do know...
Movie with family, fun it is.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Friday Night Pizza & Movie

Homemade pizza + Cool Runnings = A great evening!

Day In Ueno

Zilla is 6 years old
Mega is 3 year old

Lesson: Ueno has much to offer.

If you don't live in Tokyo you probably don't know where/what Ueno is.  It is an older (historical) part of town which features a park surrounded by a zoo and various museums.  In some ways it is similar to a mini version Smithsonian Museums gathered around the Mall in Washington DC.
We haven't visited most of the museums in the past few years because the kids were too young to enjoy them. This past week Zilla had some time off school so I took the kids to Ueno for the day.
We started out at the National Museum of Nature and Science visiting the special exhibition on Dinosaurs of the Gobi Dessert.
Zilla and Mega both love learning about dinosaurs.  Being able to see these skeletons up close, in person was a real treat.  One special feature was a tablet computer that you could rent which had narration, additional photos and videos to enhance the exhibit. In the kid's version there was also a quiz to check their comprehension.  Zilla soaked up the information like a sponge!  Mega used our Dinosaur Train flashcards to identify the various dinosaurs which were displayed.
One feature the kids found particularly interesting was the information on how the bones are located and identified.  The ablove picture is the explanation of how a pile of tiny bones was discovered to actually be a nest of baby dinosaurs.  The kids think it would make a great puzzle for Grandpa to put together!

After the museum we headed across the park to Ueno Zoo. On the way there we stopped to take a picture with a whale, look at some early blooming Cherry Blossoms and have a snack at the playground.
This is outside the nature and science museum.

 The playground pictures here is between the Tokyo Metropolitian Art Museum and Ueno Zoo.

My year-long membership for the zoo ends soon so this may have been our last trip for a while. With Zilla starting school in the direction away from the zoo we may not be able to get there as often as we like.  While Ueno Zoo is small (landlocked) it has a long history and a wide variety of animals.  On this visit Mega wanted to see the pandas and polar bear. Zilla was looking forward to the spider monkeys and elephants.  Once we started walking around the aye-ayes, lemurs and the petting area sheep and goats also grabbed the kid's attention.  I love that we can go to the same zoo many times over the course of a year because the kids notice changes in the animals yet every time we go. They also show a new interest in an animal or two which they did not find particularly interesting before.

At the end of the day we headed back across Ueno park to get to the train home.  We stopped to watch a juggler/magician doing a street performance.  I'd love to say he was great... but he was very funny and held the kids attention. It must be hard to spend the day trying to get people to stop in the cold to watch for a while...

After we returned home the kids started asking about when we could go back to Ueno to see the other museums.  I think the next 1/2 day of school might include an afternoon trip to Ueno!
This is definitely one of the advantages of living in a city and I plan to make the most of it!

Here are some of the other places to visit around Ueno Park:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fishy Friends

Lesson: Aquariums Rock!
It is no secret that we enjoy a visit to the zoo or aquarium. What is a surprise is that with every visit the kids find something new and exciting. As their comprehension and observational skills improve aquarium visits take longer and delve deeper into the wonders of the sea.
On recent aquarium visits the olive flounder ヒラミ has interested the kids because of its ability to match the ocean bottom. Zilla is currently enthralled with the whale shark ジンベイザメ. Mega has also taken an interest in stingrays - especially the big ones!
We're blessed to live near (within a couple hours by train) a number of aquariums which have interactive and informative exhibits. We particularly enjoy visiting them in winter when it is a bit cold to spend the day whole outside.
Inbetween visits to see our fish friends we read from a selection of books and enjoy a few apps which teach about sea life. Recently I came across a series of 3D Explorer books which includes one with an ocean theme.

Bento Beginnings

Lesson: If you look you may find what you are looking for!

As we prepare for Zilla to enter elementary school there are many things to prepare and think about. One of the big ones will be having to make a bento lunch every day. These meals are far from the traditional brown bag with PB&J or bologna sandwhich. Bentos are often said to be well balanced, colorful, fresh and handmade as a way to show a Mother's love. While I don't need to make a bento to show my love my kids do need to eat lunch so I hope to make the best of the situation. To that end I've been searching for helpful resources.
A recent search on Amazon turned up this set of bento recipe cards. They are great as they can be laid out to help you see how the foods will look once they are in the bento box. On the back of each card is the recipe for the food item pictured as well as the food category it fits into to help with planning a balanced meal. The set also includes a detailed nutritional information list.
The recipes are in Japanese but for the most part they look pretty straight forward. Even if you can't read the recipes just looking at the picture cards can be inspiring. One of the greatest challenges I see in daily bento making is trying to figure out what to make so inspiration will be key!
Another part of preparation is trying to figure out what he rest of the family will each for lunch. Perhaps on some days we'll make bentos for everyone so we don't have to think about making lunch?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!
Please take a few minutes today to tell someone you love them!

Valentine's Cards you can print プリントアウトのバレンタインカード:

Crafts 工作:

V-Day Books:
Our favorites are linked in the Kotoba & Sign Amazon bookstore!

Other Links:

Saturday, February 1, 2014

You could win an iPad Mini!

The lovely people over at Two Little Hands have a contest going on right now. The grand prize is an iPad mini! Residents outside the us are eligible to enter :-)
Click on the picture to connect to the contest page. This contest is open to people living anywhere on the planet!
And, visit the Kotoba & Sign homepage to learn more about the benefits do signing with children of all abilities and language backgrounds!

Homemade Pasta

Lesson: Homemade pasta is the best!
Every once in a while (ok, at least a couple of times a day...) Zilla gets an idea that sticks in his head and he feels that seeing that idea become reality is extremely urgent and comes before everything else. Some people call this creativity. Some call it passionate. I try not to call it annoying! ;-)
This week we watched an episode of Reading Rainbow in which they showed a family making pasta. The tortellini in particular caught Zilla's attention. He wanted to make it. For supper. That night. Not. Possible!
So, he had to wait a day. Then, Emo (daddy) volunteered to make pasta with Zilla and Mega if I would direct them through the process. It was a delicious and fun activity!

I turned to google for a recipe and came across the Cooking Channel for Fresh Pasta Dough. It was easy to do but from set-up to clean up took about 2 hours. I think an adult working along at a kitchen counter could get done a lot faster but it wouldn't be as much fun!

These pictures tell the story pretty well. He noodles puffed up a bit while cooking so in the end it was closer to fettuccini than speghatti but as long as it tastes good we don't care!
Miss Mega likes the pasta so much she switched to signing because her mouth was full of food!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Boy and his Bike

Lesson: Some things are easy to learn... Others take time. Teaching a child to be patient with the things that take time can be stressful!

The past 6 months or so has been filled with tasks that Zilla first deemed to be "impossible". When children get near the age or 6 and prepare for Elementary school they also reach a point where they can physically and mentally learn a number of key skills. The problem we've run into is that that age also comes with some stubbornness. The sturbourness which helps a child not to give up when working on the new skills can be the same sturbourness that stops a child before really giving a new skill an honest try!
With Zilla, learning to read is one of those things. Last summer he was really against any work that encouraged him to read on his own. Now he is reading any hiragana that he sees. He did the same thing with learning to tie shoes. I knew he could do it for a while before he decided he could do it on his own. Today's conquered challenge is being able to ride a bike.
Zilla's journey toward bike riding starts about 5 year ago with a tricycle which was handed down from some friends. The trike was small for a long legged boy so he never really got knack of peddling. When he was 2/3/4 years old he used a balance bike. As he grew he also learned to balance, turn, and brake. He learned about judging speed and distance on that bike. For many kids the transition from a balance bike to a regular kid's bike is a quick and easy one. Zilla, however, had a mental block to get past. From media exposure he had a strong idea that he needed training wheels for a. Long time. I knew he could go without them but convincing him to give it an honest try, without training wheels, took about six months. We tried one training wheel for a while, I raised the training wheels up as high as they would go... He was still riding tilted so a training wheel could catch him... until yesterday!
Yesterday we did a little bargaining and took the training wheels off. It was not easy to convince Zilla to give the bike a few tries. Even after a few runs with nearly no parental help he still was lacking in confidence.
Today when Zilla came home from school one of the first things he asked was if he could try the bike again. Within minutes he was hiking on his own. I don't know what happened during the day but something helped him to clear the mental block and voila! The boy can ride a bike!
And to think, just yesterday, he was sure he'd never be able to do it...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Busy Hands

Lesson: When the kids are busy doing something productive mom's life is a little easier.
At 3 and 6 both Zilla and Mega are experiencing a time of wanting to do handy work. As long as I can keep them supplied with activities it is pretty quiet around the house!
Mega has recently been interested in not just playing with the dollhouse but also with roll playing whole days including picking kids up on the bus for for yochien/preschool and visiting the doctor. She is also working on knots - how to tie and untie them.
Zilla loves making things and has been asking to sew petty much daily since visiting grandma (and her sewing machine!) in summer. In recent cleaning some of the plastic forms surfaced so Zilla is very pleased!
Another activity which keeps their little hands busy is the Busytown Seek & Play puzzle. We love that after you put the puzzle together there are cards that you can take turns reading to ask a question to the other players. All the answers are on the puzzle and often the closer you look the more answers you'll find!
Thanks to the recent era of busy hands and engaged minds my days have been on the peaceful side! Lesson learned! (For now...)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Kids Work Space

A few people have asked recently about the space we have for the kids  to work at/in. Here is what the main area looks like. This is in the kitchen, in a nook sort of space.
The key element here is having a good table and chairs. This table has a 65cmx65cm top. It is a good size for two young kids to use for projects. The table is about 55cm high and the seats of the chairs are at 30cm.  Even if you have only one child I highly recommend having at least 2 chairs so that you can sit with a child to work together.  
Recently we had some friends over and 4 preschoolers were able to comfortable eat a meal at the table. Instead of buying additional chairs 2 of the kids sat on milk carton boxes. It worked out very well!
Next to the table is the shelf where we keep a variety of art and homeschool items.  The easel in the back is portable so we take it outside for painting. Inside we use the white board regularly.  Up along the walls are a number of cups which contain supplies which require supervision when used. With a toddler in the house it is great to have them visible but out of reach.

Art clipped to a curtain with clothespins - a great way to brighten up plain curtains and display recent projects.

Hooks up high work great for displaying the latest art while keeping it safe from curious little hands.

This has a bit of a close-up of the shelves. The drawer set in the middle holds craft paper, origami paper, stencils, crayons and each child's personal pencils, erasers etc.
Each child also has a set of file drawers into which worksheets go for homeschool time.
The other things on the shelves include coloring books, notepads, kids magazines and various activity books.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Winter Break Activities

Zilla is on winter break and Mega is so glad to have him around!
I've learned that the key to a pleasant time off of school is to be prepared. Busy kids are less likely to go looking for trouble or pick fights with each other.
Our winter schedule is very busy with activities which keep us near home but as parents not aways avalible to focus on the kids. There are many things to consider in balancing life so we've learned to do what we can to make holidays special for the kids in a way they appreciate.
Here are some of the things the kids have been enjoying:
In preparation for the season I finally found time for the chalkboard paint project I've had in mind for a while. It makes use of an otherwise dea space in the house and give the kids a place to draw freely or practice writing. When you live in a small place like we do these spaces can also be sanity savers when you want to have a little time alone.
Legos are a key to many of our activities. From building cars to castles the open ended play makes them a favorite!
Plane + Park = Fun
Knitting - Zilla has been working on a knitting project at school where the kids use a cut off soda bottle with chopstick pieces taped on to make a sort of loom. For Chrstmas he asked for knitting needles so he has been working on learning how to knit the "real" way.
Magformers and oversized coloring books provide a great change of pace in play.
And, to top off a day a bit of play dough time is always welcome!