No, No, No

Yes is More

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about toddlers and toddler personalities and the things I can do with and around Alexander. I want him to be thoughtful, empathetic, gentle, intuitive, patient. I want him to be willing to try new things. I want him to know it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have opinions that are not the same as mine or his dad’s. I want him to take risks. I want him to learn to share, without forcing it.

I have read a lot over the past two years, but it seems that all those things are starting to come to a head in our house.

One of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that the best way to teach all of the things above is by modeling them. If I want a gentle son, I need to be gentle with him. If I would rather he not yell, I need to not yell. If I want a patient and empathetic little boy, I need to show patience and empathy — to him, to my husband, to strangers.

I’m totally awful at these things much of the time! But I catch myself. I apologize. I explain why I shouldn’t have done this or that, and we move on. I figure, as long as I am working towards being better, it will be good for our relationship. I catch myself, and I forgive myself. And I ask myself what I could do differently next time.

Alexander is nearly 2.5 years old. And just a few weeks ago, he started saying the word no more. He doesn’t say it all the time; it’s genuinely when he doesn’t want something or doesn’t want to do something. In fact, he says yes a lot more than no.

I came across an article yesterday. It said that toddlers hear the word no, on average, every 9 minutes! And since then, I have been noticing that I do, in fact, say no more than I would like. Just like with other things, I know that modeling is the most important way to teach a behavior.

I need to stop saying no so much.

This morning, after breakfast, we were working on a few sight words. I wrote the word mom on a sheet of paper. He sounded out each letter. Then I said Yes, mmmm – ahhh – mmmm. That spells mom. I asked him to tell me what the word was. And he said mmmm – ahhh – mmmm.

This was a moment when I had to catch myself. I could have said No, I asked what the word was, not what the letters sounded like. But he had a different mission. He wanted to sound out the letters again. He’s 2! Goodness. I bit my tongue for a split second and changed my response to this: Yes that is what the letters sound like! What is this word? and I used my finger to underline the word. Then he said mom.

The no was missing. And that’s really important to me.

Let me point out the other side of the issue. The word no is important. If he is running toward a street, I can’t shout out Yes I understand you want to run right now, but let’s run the other direction! I need to shout a firm no (or stop) and trust that he understands to stop immediately. So far, that’s one that works just fine thankfully!

But I do fear that using no too frequently will cause him to start blocking it out. It’s important to do it for some things, things where a natural consequence is just not an option. I think we can all figure out where that line is. If he burns his hand on a hot glass, he won’t be scarred for life. But pulling a pot of boiling water onto himself could be very damaging, permanently. One of those requires a firm no, while the other requires some redirection and explanation.

I’m dealing with a changing toddler. And I want to start understanding his motives and motivations. I want to start speaking his language since he isn’t perfectly speaking mine yet. I want to work with him instead of working against him, using the I’m big, you’re small mentality. Those are the sorts of thing that will pay off in the long run.

Conclusion – SAY YES MORE!

“Good job!”

Good Job!

If you have seen any recent videos of Alexander, you may notice that he says “good job” after nearly everything. And just the other day, I was playing Tetris on my computer. Every time I cleared a line, he said “good job”. It was cute.

As you may have heard before, using the phrase “good job” isn’t recommended. In fact, a lot of parents (especially in the Montessori world) are completely opposed and never use it. They even think it’s a bad thing. And that is fine! That’s their opinion, and we’re all entitled to ours. I can totally see that extreme and the rationale behind it.

For us, it’s a little too late to stop using it entirely.

Let me suppose for one second that you have no idea why “good job” isn’t so good. There are a couple of main reasons.

  1. It’s totally non-specific. Let’s say that Alexander finished his puzzle and put it back onto the shelf. If I say “good job”, am I applauding the fact that he finished his puzzle (one that he’s completed 50 times) or am I applauding the fact that he put the puzzle onto the shelf (something he’s expected to do and something he’s done dozens of times)? Or maybe I’m applauding the fact that he finished the puzzle faster than he ever has, with zero mistakes (not that I keep track of that!)?
  2. It means that I’m creating the standard for what a good job looks like. This one means more to me, as a former teacher. I understand #1, but this one is more important in my opinion. If it took him 5 full minutes to complete a puzzle, and he was actually bummed about taking so long, and I come along and offer an enthusiastic “good job!”, then he’s like, “Oh I guess 5 minutes is good enough” even if he could finish it in 4 minutes. And maybe next time, if he wanted to finish it in 4 minutes, he could, but he thinks that 5 minutes is good enough, so he doesn’t push himself. And what about the times when he doesn’t finish the puzzle at all. Is that a bad job? Is mommy not happy with him? Maybe he got tired… does that mean he’s done a bad thing?

Okay okay, he’s a 2 year old. And he probably isn’t thinking about it like that at all. But it’s a HABIT. It’s like, I don’t want to get used to saying “good job” every time he does anything.

For us, the remedy is fairly simple. He says “good job” to himself for doing X, Y, or Z. And I reply by saying, “Yea! You did X!” or “Wow, you finished Y all by yourself!”

Basically, he needs to be proud of himself on his own and not worry about whether he has my approval. If I always tell him “good job”, then the times I don’t tell him anything, will he not find any pride in his own work?

It may seem a little silly, but now that I’m living with a little person who says “good job” to every tiny task that someone completes, I see how silly it really sounds. I mean, if I finish my plate of food, I don’t need anyone to tell me I did a good job. If I finish folding the laundry, I don’t need to know that’s a good job. It’s just a job! I’m not proud of myself because it’s not a big deal. I don’t want him to find a false sense of accomplishment in small things, nor do I want him to seek out approval for everything he does well.

What’s the word… intrinsic? Something like that. 🙂

Anyway, there are a ton of resources and ideas out there that offer alternatives to “good job”. Here’s just one of them that I really liked. It’s 10 points. (You can find some that are 50+ ideas, and that’s too much for me. I get the picture after a shorter list. But if you need/want more, those resources are out there!)

An Alphabet Print


Alphabet Print

I like this because it helps with the alphabet song. It’s not lowercase cursive, but I wanted equal character spacing, for aesthetics.

If you’d like to print this yourself, the PDF attached is a full poster size quality. But you can print it whatever size you’d like.

CLICK HERE for the downloadable PDF. If you just want the image, for whatever reason, feel free to save the one above.

Pine Nuts in Play Doh (VIDEO)

This is a great sensory experience, and it’s good for counting practice as well!

You can see exactly what to do in the video above. But in case you don’t have time to watch:

  1. You need 10 pine nuts (or any number of smallish objects).
  2. You need a small amount of play doh. The amount will depend on the age of the child. I think that an older child, you could use more of the play doh (and more objects to hide). This was a good amount for Alexander because it didn’t take much effort to find the pine nuts. A younger child, I would use a smaller amount of the play doh and only 3-5 objects.
  3. I pressed the play doh fairly flat.
  4. Alexander would press the pine nuts into the dough, and we would count them as he did so.
  5. Once all 10 were pressed into the dough, I would roll up the play doh and roll it into a ball. Most of the pine nuts were visible from the outside, and the others were just under the surface.
  6. I handed him the doh ball, and he would dig through and pull out each of the 10 pine nuts, counting as he went.

Super simple!

NOTE: You don’t want to do this if your baby is allergic to nuts! Use rice or dry beans or plastic/wooden beads. I just happened to have pine nuts in the pantry. (Plus “pine nuts in play doh” sounds cuter than “dry beans in play doh,” am I right?)

Animal Footprints Printable and Salt Dough Prints (Printable)

Animals and Their Footprints

As you can see in the November curriculum (HERE), I wanted to focus on animals and numbers this month.

We’ve done a few things in the past, and I want to expand on animals this month. One thing I wanted to make is animal prints. I was hoping Alexander could help, but he mostly just made a mess. So I ended up making the salt dough prints myself. (Here is how you can make salt dough yourself.)

I made one batch of dough and picked a few footprints that were different enough from each other. Also, since I just used my fingers to make the prints, it was difficult making small indents (like for tiny fingernails). I also wanted them to be somewhat relative to each other in size. Like, a bear’s footprint is much larger than a squirrel’s. They aren’t perfect because I’m not entirely sure how large a bear’s paw is in real life! I just used my best judgment and made the ones you see below.

  • Squirrel
  • Deer
  • Bear
  • Mountain lion
  • Raccoon

Salt Dough Animal Prints

These prints sat on the kitchen counter for about a week before I came up with an idea for how to use them.

I decided to make a set of flash cards. One set would be the 5 animals, and the second set would be images of the actual prints in the wild. I considered making black and white prints (like a clip-art sort of thing) but decided it would be more interesting if they were actual, real-world footprints. That way, if we see deer, raccoon, or squirrel prints in our neighborhood, we can identify them. (I don’t expect to see mountain lion or bear prints any time soon! We could use the mountain lion print to look for cat footprints in our neighborhood, though.)



Anyway, the document that’s below is two pages. The first page is the 5 animals. The second page is the 5 real-world footprints. The footprints are slightly smaller, so if you wanted, you could leave the first page intact and cut the second page into cards. And the footprint cards should fit on top of the animal sheet. Hopefully that makes sense.

Use them however you’d like!

You can use the printable without making the salt dough prints, which was my intention. I wanted to be sure I shared ideas here that can be used as is OR expanded a little.

HERE is the free printable of the animals + animal prints.

November 2015 Curriculum

November 2015 Curriculum

I’ve never written a curriculum for a 2-year-old, but I was a high school teacher for 7 years. Because of that, I am familiar with how to plan a month of lessons, activities, projects, assessments, and I know what a curriculum looks like (for high schoolers anyway).

I used my basic knowledge of scheduling and planning to put together some ideas for this month. I have some primary objectives for Alexander, but since I’ve never worked with a 2-year-old and can’t see the future, they are simply a loose guideline. I’ve also got no one to compare him to, which is a good thing at this age. No need to get all uptight about meeting certain standards. He’s learning, and he’s having fun, and that is the main objective.

All that said, I use the word “curriculum” very casually. If you’re looking for a professional curriculum, you’ll want to look elsewhere! This is a general guide that we’ll be following, that may give you some ideas.

Animals, Numbers
Timeline: 4 weeks

Objectives: (Some of them have an asterisk. Those are the ones I think will be more challenging.)

  1. Identify at least 5 more animals.
  2. Learn terms for animal body parts and relate them to human body parts.
  3. Separate fruits and vegetables, meats, and nuts.*
  4. Identify which animals are carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores.*
  5. Learn about teeth.
  6. Count to 20.*
  7. Trace the numbers 1 through 10.
  8. Write the numbers 1 through 10.*
  9. Identify the quantities 1 through 10.

Objective 1: Identify at least 5 more animals by picture.

So far, Alexander can identify about 25 animals. I would like to expose him to a few more that he does not know. I’ve considered a lot, but I want to find 5-10 animals that are somehow related. Here are some that have come to mind:

  • flamingo
  • aardvark
  • platypus
  • shark
  • chipmunk
  • moose
  • skunk
  • walrus
  • jellyfish
  • ostrich

I want to consider animals that are pretty distinctive. For example, I would not show him an ostrich and an emu because they are too similar.

ACTIVITY (science): Once I pick the 5-10 animals that are related, I will create some animal flash cards to accompany them. It may be worth my while to find animals that would be in the same exhibit at a zoo.

ACTIVITY (practical life, science): Visit the Zoo Atlanta or a local farm. Practice animal sounds on the drive to the zoo so that he can interact and be a part of the experience. (In the past, trips to the zoo have been pretty boring for him, or at least he never seemed interested.)

Objective 2: Learn terms for animal body parts and relate them to human body parts.

While we have feet, some animals have paws, claws, and hoofs. We have noses, but some animals have snouts or a trunk. I want to learn some of that terminology and teach those words to Alexander.

ACTIVITY (science): We’ll start with a piece of paper that shows the face and body of an animal. I’ll see if Alexander can point to the animal’s NOSE, for example. He’ll most likely be able to. Then I’ll say, “This is a pig. His nose is called a SNOUT. Can you say SNOUT?” He’ll give it a shot. And we’ll keep going for a few different animals.

ACTIVITY (science): We will play a game. I will say, “Pretend that mommy is a pig. Where is mommy’s SNOUT?” And he would have to touch my nose. This may be a challenge because I’m not sure if he knows how to play pretend just yet. If that idea is successful, then we can play a similar game where Alexander is the animal, and I’ll ask him to point to a particular animal body part.

Objective 3: Separate fruits and vegetables, meats, and nuts.

Alexander is definitely capable of identifying some fruits and vegetables that we eat regularly. He would probably be able to identify nuts and some meats. For the meats, I would use an image of a cow and state that a cow is where beef comes from (instead of a picture of ground beef). I think it’s important that he understands that some things that we eat are parts of animals. (If you are vegan/vegetarian, I apologize if this makes you uncomfortable!)

ACTIVITY (sensorial): We’ll do a pantry and refrigerator raid. We’ll go through the foods we have in our house. He can identify specific fruits and vegetables, but I want to see if he can say “fruit” or “vegetable” or “meat” and so on. Nuts and grains are lumped together for this activity.

ACTIVITY: Grocery store advertisements are filled with pictures of foods. Each week, we get at least one flyer/coupon book from a grocery store. I will start to stockpile them for this activity. I will cut out the various fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains/nuts. (I will also tape them to a sheet of white paper and laminate them.) I’ll have Alexander separate them by fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains.

Objective 4: Identify which animals are carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores.

I imagine this will be fun if he picks up on the idea quickly. Once I feel like he has a good grasp of objective 3, I want to talk with him about carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. He will learn that we (our family) are omnivores because we eat fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains/nuts. Some animals (and people) only eat grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and those animals are called herbivores. And some animals only eat meats: they are called carnivores.

Since we have a good selection of printed animal cards – and I plan to purchase another set of animal figurines this month – I will be able to teach Alexander which animals have which types of diets. If he understands the distinction, then we will do an activity.

ACTIVITY (science): I will use the food flash cards (from objective 3). I’ll put a few food items in front of Alexander and ask him which animal might eat those foods. If that is completely too advanced, I will guide him. For example, I will say, “Which foods do you see here? Yes, ____ and ____ are fruits. And ____ is meat. We know that omnivores eat fruit and meat. Which animal is an omnivore?” And he may be able to identify that.

Objective 5: Learn about teeth.

It’s possible that Alexander will get his last 4 teeth this month. If that happens, he will have 20 teeth, which is perfect for the next objective. If not, we can still learn about teeth.

One thing I want to point out is that some teeth are flat (molars) and some are sharp (canines). Some of them help to cut off a bite, and others help to chew the food. I want to talk about how different animals have certain types of teeth. (And a shark has a lot more than we do!) If he understood the carnivore, herbivore, omnivore terms, then I may link types of teeth back to certain types of diets.

ACTIVITY (sensorial, science, math): We will stand in front of a mirror and count our teeth.

ACTIVITY (sensorial, science): We will have a snack. When we take a bite, we will look at the marks that our teeth made on the food. Depending on the food, we will be able to count the teeth marks.

Objective 6: Count to 20. (math)

Alexander can count to 13 consistently. But after 13, they all sound the same, and he usually gives up around 17.

I want to see if he can practice making it to 20!

Objective 7: Trace the numbers 1 through 10. 

We have started this objective already (see here).

ACTIVITY (math, fine motor skills): We will continue to practice tracing the numbers 1 through 10. I saw a set of tracing cards online that were better than the ones we have. They’ve got arrows helping to direct your pen strokes. I will continue to demonstrate this skill and have Alexander copy me. Since he enjoys it, I imagine we’ll do this activity most days.

Objective 8: Write the numbers 1 through 10. (math, writing)

I don’t want to set lofty goals, but I want to assume that it is possible that Alexander will get confident with tracing his numbers. If that happens, we will practice writing them on plain paper. (This skill may not develop for another year. I have no idea!)

Objective 9: Identify the quantities 1 through 10.

For whatever reason, Alexander is not very interested in quantity. If I display 4 objects and ask him “how many?”, he will just ignore me. If I ask him to count the objects, though, he will count 1-2-3-4. I know he understands that there are 4 objects, but actually stating that there are 4 of them (without counting) is proving difficult, or maybe just boring. Also, past 5, he gets distracted and sloppy with the counting.

I feel like looking at a quantity and seeing the quantity (as opposed to counting up to it) is a skill in itself. I would like to continue practicing this with him this month. If he shows no interest, we will move on, as we always do.

ACTIVITY (math, fine motor skills): I have a set of lollipop sticks and a set of number cards. I’ll display a number card and ask Alexander to place that many sticks on the card.

ACTIVITY (math): I will place a certain number of sticks on his table. Then I will ask Alexander to place the correct number card next to the sticks. If that instruction does not make sense, I will simply ask him to tell him how many sticks are on the table.


In addition to the activities above, I know that we will continue with pouring, color matching, puzzles, letter matching, and more. There are a lot of things he enjoys, so I don’t want to take those away.

The activities above are just plans and ideas.

At the end of the month, I anticipate that I will go back through this post then create a new post with links to specific videos, printables, and activities that we actually did!

Classroom Setup #4 November 2015

Classroom Setup #4

We are busy around here, so the past few weeks have been slow in the school area. Alexander has been practicing letters and numbers, putting together puzzles, and playing with his new animal figurines most days. We’ve been reading more as well.

But I was feeling the urge to change things up, especially since I’ve been thinking about the curriculum ideas I’ve had rolling around in my brain. So I moved forward with that, and it made sense that the shelves would change up too.

Here’s a tour of our shelves for November! We still have two tall shelves and two short shelves, a bin for train tracks and trains, and a table with two chairs.

Classroom Setup #4

The Shelf on the Left

Classroom Setup #4

Shelf One

On the top I still have lowercase cursive letters (split into A-M and N-Z) along with matching uppercase print letters. One set is magnetized, and he seems to like that one better. I just haven’t gotten around to magnetizing the other set yet. (It could also be that he is more confident with A-M.)

Shelf Two

This shelf is still a few puzzles he likes. The first is just stacking rings (The Tower of Hanoi). Sometimes he puts them large to small, sometimes dark separate from light, and sometimes it’s seemingly random. In the middle is the Melissa & Doug owl puzzle that he really likes. And I added a small mirror with a small flashlight that he is able to turn on and off.

Classroom Setup #4

Shelf Three

This shelf is some animal stuff. I have his animal figurines in the basket. And in the 3-compartment bin, it’s silhouettes, animal skin/fur, and the animals themselves.

Classroom Setup #4

Classroom Setup #4

Shelf Four

Down here, it used to be a few trucks and cars, plus a book about things that go. But he lost interest in that. Now, it is number stuff. The little jar has 10 lollipop sticks and a dry-erase marker. In the middle is a set of wipe-off cards for tracing the numbers 1-10. And on the right are some more cards for tracing; they are random lines, some curved, some straight. The lollipop sticks are for quantity. I’m going to see if he can use the cards in the middle and then match up the proper number of sticks to each card.

Classroom Setup #4

The Shelf on the Right

Classroom Setup #4

Shelf One

The top of this shelf is more animal stuff. It’s the salt dough animal tracks I made, plus a set of matching cards. One set is images of animal tracks in real life. The second is images of the actual animals. That blog post is forthcoming.

Classroom Setup #4Classroom Setup #4

Shelf Two

Here, it’s the gradient tiles with matching cards. And it’s also pipe cleaners plus some beads. The pipe cleaners work very well for this. Soon we’ll try a regular string again, but for now, this works for him.

Classroom Setup #4

Shelf Three

The pouring station is still there; it’s got two little pouring pitchers and felt balls for the actual pouring. We tried water for a while, but it was a mess every time. Since I can’t always watch and help, I switched to the small balls so he can do that activity without me. Next to the pouring station is cutting! I took away the scissors about a month ago, and I’m bringing them back. We will see how he does with them this time.

Shelf Four

This is fun stuff. It’s two colors of Play-Doh on the left. And on the right, it’s some pieces of cardboard plus stickers. I’m not sure how those are teaching him anything, but they are at least helping him with fine motor movements.

Tracing Objects Activity

Tracing Objects Activity

This activity is super simple and a lot of fun.

I found about 20 objects around the house that had different shapes. (You’ll see a few “mistakes” I made in a second.) I placed them onto a large piece of paper. [NOTE: I went to the local newspaper office and bought a huge roll of newspaper paper for $5.]

Then I traced the basic/rough outline of each object.

Tracing Objects ActivityAs you can see, the jar lid and the apple are both a similarly-sized circle. So those were confused when he was putting the objects back in place. Also, the large lego piece would have made more sense if I turned it to the side, so that the little nubs were visible. He left that one for the end because he couldn’t figure it out (a rectangle isn’t obviously a lego, you know?).

Tracing Objects Activity

And here’s a short video that shows the process. This is an activity we will do regularly! It would be easy to recreate using whatever objects fit our current theme, too. This one has no theme, but if we were learning about shapes, fruits and vegetables, or the continents, this would work nicely.

VIDEO: Writing the Numbers 1-10

Alexander loves his letters and numbers.

He loves watching me write the letters and numbers.

He has seen me write the numbers 1-20 over and over and over. He has practiced using these wipe-off flash cards, with me, many times. But he hasn’t practiced them solo as often.

With that said, this video shows Alexander (2 years, 4 months) writing the numbers 1-10 on these tracing cards with a dry-erase marker. Ideally, we would have a little sand tray, and he would write the numbers with his finger before moving to a writing utensil. Since his grip on the marker isn’t ideal, using his finger would be easier for him I think.

BUT… we don’t have a sand tray. So we are using what we have!

He’s enjoying himself and wrote 1-10 about five times before his hand started getting tired. I have added this station to our shelves for the month. We will do a bit of tracing/writing practice this month.

Tracing NumbersTracing NumbersTracing NumbersTracing Numbers