The “if…then” chart

From around the age of three it is important that children begin to understand the principles behind the behaviour we expect from them – the moral reason “why” of any given situation. This allows them to apply the principles to any and every situation they are facing, including those that are entirely new to them. As Christians, this moral reason should be based on the authority of scripture.

It was somewhat of a surprise to me to realise that while I know the right thing to do, I didn’t actually know the biblical reason why in some situations. Everything came back to obedience and respect. While these are important, there has to be a little more to it as our children grow. “Because Mummy said so” is a legitimate response, especially for the very young child, however children need more than that as they mature. Similarly, “because the bible says so” does not cut it for ever. Where does it say so and exactly what does it say?

I also find myself easily falling into the habit of nagging, reminding and scolding the children while not actually doing anything about the behaviours in the form of applying suitable consequences. Many times in the past when I have sat down and thought through what our problem areas are and applied consistent consequences (explaining clearly the moral or practical reasons why behind the rules) it has been a matter of days before those behaviours are no longer a problem. With a plan and consistent reinforcement it takes only days to eliminate behaviours that at times have been driving me nuts for months! Ideally my husband and I will sit down once a week to take stock, plan and work on our children’s moral development, character and behaviour together.

One tool we find helpful is the “If…then” chart. (Available from here or make your own.) Ours has space for a bible verse explaining the moral reason (or practical reason) behind the rule, a description of the behaviour we are working to eliminate and the consequence that will be given if the behaviour occurs. At the same time we work on the positive side of the character trait. It is no good telling children what not to do if they do not clearly understand what it is they should do.

I am also transferring each behaviour onto an A4 page and each child will illustrate the ones particularly applicable to themselves for display. This will help the non-readers to remember what we are working on. I used the book “Proverbs for Parenting”  to find a verse to back up each rule. The book has proverbs sorted into categories/topic areas relevant to parenting which makes it easy to find bible verses relating to a particular kind of behaviour.

We will focus on 2 or 3 behaviours per child that are problem areas for each of the eldest children (consequences will apply to all though) and add more once those problem areas have been significantly reduced. I am hoping to see some very positive changes across the next few days and weeks and I know I will be less frustrated because I have a plan of how to deal with the situations. I will be proactively parenting in these areas, rather than reactively parenting, which is always a better way to go!

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Mealtime madness – conversation skills, table etiquette and manners

Meals are a time for sitting face to face around the table and sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences together. A time of bonding and growing with worthwhile discussions across a broad range of topics, inclusive of all those at the table. While using your cutlery correctly and displaying beautiful manners of course. Well, in my ideal world they are!

The reality at the moment is that meal times are often full of foolish talk, semi foolish behaviour and questionable manners. The latest spanner in the works is a newborn who’s feeds often coincide with everyone else’s meal time, requiring me to leave the children eating together without supervision during lunch. What to do? Here are a few ideas that we have used in the past to combat the lunch time sillies and to try to redeem this time.

  • Reading aloud. I either eat before or after the children and use the meal time itself to read aloud from excellent literature. Quality conversations can often be had relating to the themes and ideas we are reading about. Reading aloud is such a valuable activity and all children should have the opportunity to be exposed to good literature even before they develop the ability to read it for themselves. There are times that I do manage to insert lengthy read aloud sessions into our day and then there are times that it is much more difficult. A couple of chapters a day is better than nothing.
  • Audio Books. When reading aloud is not practical I substitute audio books instead. Not as nice as a “live” voice but they are still being exposed to great literature. There are thousands of classic stories available online for free download at librivox.org. Some of the volunteers who have recorded the stories are more polished and easier to listen to than others but the children don’t seem to mind.
  • Discussion starters. I trawled the net a while back for discussion starter ideas and printed out hundreds of them onto coloured paper before cutting them into strips. When conversation isn’t going well, one of the children lucky-dips a conversation starter and we all take turns to answer the usually thought-provoking question. Some of the sites with lists of ideas are here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
  • Etiquette posters. I purchased a set of etiquette posters from above rubies and have those on display. (The “etiquette posters” link above is the American site but you can order from the Australian site; “above rubies” link.) We occasionally read through them and discuss different scenarios, situations and occasions where a variety of manners and behaviours are expected and considered polite and respectful. We play “What would you do if…?” where we set up a  story situation for the children to respond to by using good etiquette or manners.
  • 3 marbles. When we were running our manners marble jar reward system I was putting 3 marbles in front of each child at the beginning of a meal. If poor manners were used, I didn’t lecture, I simply removed one marble. Any marbles that were left at the end of the meal were added to the marble jar.
  • 3 warnings. Assuming your children already know what is expected, the time for nagging is over. When fingers go in food or other behaviours that we have been repeatedly working on, I hold up one finger without a word. That is the signal for one warning. A second warning is given in the same way and the meal is placed in the centre of the table for a couple of minutes. If the same behaviours are used again, the meal is over for that child. (For those who use this as a convenient excuse to get out of eating the food they don’t like, we ask them to go and finish their meal in the laundry.)

Materials and storage for workjobs and Montessori tray activities

Plastic Chinese food containers fit neatly into my drawers and are a cheap and easy storage system for the items I use to make home-made workjobs and Montessori tray activities.

If you are setting yourself up for workjobs  or Montessori style tray activities for the first time there are unlimited numbers of materials that you could buy. Commercial Montessori products are beautiful but very expensive and particularly for the toddler and preschool ages it is relatively easy to make your own activities  for a fraction of the cost.

I generally source my materials secondhand form op shops, swap-meets and markets and buy the rest cheaply from discount variety stores or gather them from around the house. Each tray activity or workjob usually costs no more than $4.00 and many of the items can be re-used and presented with a different combination to make other “new” and interesting activities.

Some useful items to collect include the following:

Materials to count, transfer or manipulate:

  • Feathers
  • Buttons
  • Spools & film canisters
  • Jar & milk bottle lids
  • Pasta, macaroni, dried beans & rice
  • Corks
  • Sea shells
  • Popsicle sticks (popsticks)
  • Jewels & beads
  • Rocks, stones & pebbles
  • Straws
  • Fancy toothpicks
  • Golf tees
  • Stirring or cocktail sticks
  • Costume jewelry, bangles & strings of beads
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Rubber bands
  • String, twine, yarn, wool,shoe laces & cottons
  • Oversized metal or plastic needles
  • Paper bags, plates & cups
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Ribbon & bows
  • Hair clips & lackies
  • Magnets
  • Pompoms
  • Wedding favours eg. fake rings, mini doves, glass slippers etc.
  • Plastic & wooden pegs & dolly pegs
  • Dog clips, over-sized paperclips & other fasteners
  • Cardboard shapes
  • Number and letter tiles, cards & pieces from old board games
Materials for storage or presentation of trays and workjobs:
  • Glass, metal, china, cane & wooden bowls, trays, baskets & containers
  • Plastic tubs & lids
  • Cardboard tubes, boxes, egg cartons & food containers
  • Plastic containers & lids
  • Material/fabric scraps
  • Wood scraps
  • Shoe boxes
  • Ice-cube trays, dip trays & other divided containers
  • Plastic & glass jars
Utensils & tools for manipulating materials:
  • small hammers
  • Tongs, scoops, spoons & ladles
  • Tweezers
  • Measuring cups & funnels
Stationery:
  • Pens, pencils, textas, scissors & crayons
  • Glue, staplers, masking tape, sticky tape
  • Rulers, stencils, fasteners
If you have other ideas, please let me know and I will add them to the list.

Other posts you may like:

Montessori style tray activities; starting out

Montessori overview

Workjobs & learning styles

Hands-on Montessori tray activities for toddlers: Length comparison

Following on from my last post, here is an example of one of my toddler activity tray categories. For one term I designated a tray to length comparison; sorting various materials into “long” and “short.”

The child first finds the two matching pieces (strings of coloured beads in the tray above) and places them together to make a pair (a matching activity in itself.) They then sort the pair into the “long” or “short” containers which are also long and short in themselves to reinforce the concept.

After a week or two, when they are losing interest in the material they are sorting, I simply change it for a new material, leaving the containers and tray set up the same. Interest is revived and the concept is practised and reinforced.

My daughter who last used these length activities was 2 years and 2 months of age when she started and easily grasped the the concept. I used the Montessori activities while I was breastfeeding because it allowed me to supervise, encourage and explain if necessary while she was well occupied with challenging, yet age and developmental appropriate and enjoyable activities.

Matching, comparing and sorting coloured ribbons.

Matching, comparing and sorting coloured pencils.

Matching, comparing and sorting strips of coloured paper.

More lace ribbons to sort and compare.

Ideally the popsticks should be the same thickness so as not to confuse a child with two changing attributes; length and width. I may have been better to use the large popsticks and cut some shorter rather than use the two different kinds. It didn't seem to worry my daughter though.

Matching, comparing and sorting more coloured ribbons.

Matching, comparing and sorting coloured straws.

Matching, comparing and sorting coloured chenille sticks (tinsel pipe-cleaners.)

Montessori style tray activities for toddlers: starting out

Easter holidays are almost over and it’s time to get back into the swing of things. The twins are old enough to start Montessori tray activities so I thought I’d post today about some of the activities I’ve used for my beginners in the past.

The first thing you need to think about when you are setting out tray activities for the first time is how you will store and present them. They do take up a bit of space so a small bookshelf or shelved cupboard is ideal to place open trays, bowls and baskets in. If you don’t have enough space for this, perhaps you will need to use a system of shoe-boxes or similar so that they can be stacked away when not in use. They are not ideal as the toddler cannot see the contents easily, however they are better than nothing.

The tray or container itself is the next step. True Montessori style places a big emphasis on beautiful natural materials; everything being wood, metal, stone, glass etc and avoiding plastic and the like. While commercial Montessori materials are truly beautiful, the reality for me is that they are expensive and I am making my own, so I have to work with what I have. I initially visited a bunch of swap-meets, op shops, second-hand shops, discount variety stores and the like and bought a stack of wooden bowls, wooden trays, glass dishes, metal baskets and anything else that fitted into the natural and aesthetically pleasing category.

The trays were another matter. Wooden trays look great but cost too much and I couldn’t find any secondhand so I ended up using the flat plastic lids from small plastic storage crates I already had around the house. A roll of non-stick drawer liner cut to size for each tray stops the dishes and smaller items from slipping around.

The next step was to find a bunch of attractive materials to use for practical life activities. (See materials and storage ideas here)

To make it workable for me, I choose a selection of categories for my activities and have one tray for each kind. For example, one tray is for tong and spoon transfer, one tray for counting, one tray for colour matching and sorting, one for pegging and clipping, one for matching etc. Once I have my chosen categories set up, I use the same tray and containers for the whole term and only change the material that is presented.

This means that once my toddler is familiar with the tonging activity (I have presented it and demonstrated what to do) they are able to approach each new material without me having to re-explain what to do. They see a pair of tongs (different each week or two) with a new material to transfer but the same two containers to transfer back and forth from.  Eventually I change the containers too, but to begin with I keep it very similar so that they feel confidant in what they need to do.

On the first day the shelves are empty apart from 3 or 4 tray activities. I sit down and present each new activity which I demonstrate first before the toddler takes a turn. Depending on their attention span, I will introduce all 4 trays and stop for the day. Part of this process is showing them how to carry the tray to their work area (a carpet mat), complete the activity, place all materials back in their places and return the tray to the shelf.

The following day the child chooses which activities they would like to work on and completes them independently. If necessary, I will sit down and demonstrate the activities again. Once I can see that they understand what to do with the 4 that are already out I introduce just one new tray a day until I have built up to having all the categories in circulation.

Once they are confidently using one of each type of activity, I can change the materials without changing how it is presented (as explained above) and usually do not have to spend time explaining what to do as the concept is already familiar to them. (The next post will give you a photographic example of what I mean.)

Other posts you may like:

Mega marble transfer

An introduction to sorting

Teaching toddlers to cut

More pantry mixes; almost instant meals and snacks

Our latest blessing is 3 weeks old today and while my husband is still on holidays and the children are having a break from school for Easter I have been making up and trying out some more pantry mix recipes. I am loving being able to get a meal ready in a matter of minutes, especially when I’ve left it all too late to put anything fancy together.

My absolute favourite so far is the onion soup mix. I love dip made from a packet of French onion soup mixed with sour cream but I don’t like the additives and nasties that come with the shop bought product. This home-made mix tastes the same as the commercial version and I know exactly what’s in it. There are so many quick and easy recipes that use dry French onion soup in a packet as a base that I had previously crossed off my list that I can now go back and add to my weekly menus. VERY pleased with this one!

Another base that is used in a lot of quick recipes is cream of chicken (mushroom etc.) soup in a can. Another selection of easy meal ideas that I love for the convenience but haven’t been using because of the additives in commercial soup products.  I’ll have to play with the amount of water to add to the mix for cooking because I didn’t factor in the thin soup noodles I added to the mix (I wanted chicken noodle soup in a cup) and they soaked up a lot of the liquid and by the time I served it it was too thick. Taste was still good but a bit gluggy. Still a keeper though as I’m sure with a better water ratio it will be fine.

Layered soup mix in a jar (Friendship soup mix) was next on the list. Again, 5 minutes to put together and pop into the slow cooker. Taste is great but it’s more like a thick casserole than soup. We are going to use it to make stuffed potatoes, put on top of rice and in tacos.

We tried the butterscotch pudding mix and I was disappointed to find that it tasted like a bland custard mix. The kids still liked it though. The chocolate pudding mix is still a favourite but I won’t bother with the butterscotch mix again.

The last one I’ve tried is corn bread mix. So quick and easy; 3 minutes total! Add oil, egg and water to the mix and tip into a cake pan. 15 minutes later fluffy cornbread is ready to eat. This will be great in winter to have with hot soup for lunch. We had it buttered fresh from the oven and it was delicious.

There are many more ideas out there and I will explore some in the future, but I’m done for now. I have several containers of nearly instant meals and snacks just sitting in the pantry and I’m sure these will be well used in the busy weeks ahead.

No (or low) sugar snacks for kids: Morning and afternoon tea snack ideas

I do not remember why the children are eating cereal in their PJ's on the floor! There must have been a reason at the time!

My children have bottomless stomachs in the morning. It seems like the last bite of breakfast has only just disappeared when someone will be asking me “What’s for morning tea, Mum?” By the time I have planned breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, It’s a real stretch to think of snack ideas on top of that. They are however, very important to the short people I live with and they have failed to catch on to my preferred method of simply having an early lunch. Besides that, the general happiness level drops dramatically and seems to be inversely related to the hunger levels, particularly with the toddlers and girls in the family.

So, this brings me to today’s quest to make a list of healthy, low sugar snacks that don’t fill them up too much and take very little time and effort to prepare. I don’t mind putting in a little preparation ahead of time if they can be kept in the fridge or pantry and simply dished out as the children head outside to play. Even better if one of the older children can get them out for me as I am usually feeding a baby at this time. Otherwise, it’s got to be nothing more taxing than spreading a little peanut butter or it just won’t happen.

I would love to hear your ideas so please leave a comment. Fresh inspiration from other Mothers is always appreciated. Here’s my list so far:

  • savoury cheese crackers (recipe below)
  • celery boats (celery with peanut/nut butter and sultana sailors or cream cheese)
  • apple slices spread with peanut/nut butter and pressed into sesame (or other) seeds
  • juice pops
  • pikelets (I make a huge batch and freeze them in packs of 6. They heat up beautifully in the toaster if I’ve forgotten to defrost them. Nan’s recipe below.)
  • mini muffins (fruit based or savoury cheese and chives etc. I try to have a stash in the freezer already sorted into bags of 6 to whip out on the spot.)
  • mini cheese, pumpkin or plain  scones from bisquick mixture. (Baked ahead and frozen.)
  • banana and apricot bliss bombs (recipe below)
  • bliss balls (I haven’t tried these yet but they are on my “to do” list. They seem very healthy and it says they can be frozen.)
  • lettuce leaves spread with peanut butter, sprinkled with sultanas and rolled up. (Tastes better than it sounds!)
  • crackers with nut butter, cheese, Vegemite etc.
  • sugar free 4 ingredient banana oat bars
  • fruit salad, fruit kebabs or just plain ol’ fruit
  • veggie sticks (crudites) and dip (I love this and so do the older children but the toddlers don’t do carrot and celery sticks so well just yet! I refuse to serve 2 different snacks so this is out for now.)
  • trail mix (We can’t serve this as the toddlers can’t eat the whole nuts and certain other children’s tummies can’t handle too much dried fruit.)
  • air popped popcorn (We were given a popcorn maker as a wedding gift and at the time thought it a very strange present. It mouldered away in the back of the cupboards for many a year until we had a gang of children who loved to scoff popcorn. All of a sudden it became one of our favourite machines. Glad we kept it!)
  • plain rice cakes with avocado, Vegemite, nut butters, cream cheese, cheddar cheese etc.
  • toothpick with cheese and pineapple or olives and cheese
  • milk shakes
  • yoghurt (I use natural with fruit puree stirred through and maybe a dash of honey.)

Savoury Cheese Crackers
250gms tasty cheese
¼ cup butter
1 ½ cups sifted flour
Optional: (In dough) ¼ tspn pepper or chili powder, taco seasoning, pizza herbs, vinegar (salt and vinegar) plain or seasoning salt to sprinkle

 Cream cheese and butter in food processor.
 Add flour gradually and optional flavours.
 Pack dough into a ball (it will be crumbly)
 Divide dough into 3 parts and shape into logs about 3 cm in diameter.
 Wrap each log in waxed paper and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
 Slice into very thin wafers, sprinkle with seasoning if using and bake at 180 degrees for 12 minutes or until golden.

Source: adapted from Recipe Zaar #108486

Banana & Apricot bliss bombs
2 soft bananas – mashed
8 dried apricots – chopped
1 cup coconut
2 tblspns ricotta/cottage cheese.
 Mix all ingredients.
 Roll into balls and coat in coconut.
 Refrigerate until firm.

Nan’s Pikelets
1 c SR flour (or plain flour plus baking powder)
½ cup soured milk (add 1 tblspn lemon juice and let sit for 15 mins)
3 tblspns sugar
1 egg
1 rounded tblspn melted butter

 Sift dry ingredients and mix wet.
 Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, beating with a wooden spoon as you go.
 Cook spoonfuls in buttered frypan over med heat.