Barefoot in Suburbia

Homeschooling & Special Needs, Inspired by the Montessori Way

Outdoor Hour Challenge–Frogs July 28, 2010

Filed under: Exploring Nature — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 11:41 am

This week’s  nature challenge was on frogs.  Originally, I wanted to go out and find some tadpoles for the kids to put in an aquarium and watch, but apparently it’s a little late in the season for that.  I also checked a few pet stores, and all they had were bullfrog tadpoles–we decided against that (you either have 2 choices when it comes to what to do when the tadpoles grow up…you can keep the frog as a pet, but bullfrogs are sort of noisy demanding pets.  Or you can release it, and the environmentalist in me does not really want to release a “pest” species into our environment.)  So, we took a different path for our challenge and instead decided to compare frogs with toads.

Some of the facts that we learned were:

-Frogs have smooth “slimy-looking” skin while toads have dry, wartier skin.

-Frogs need to live near water, and toads only breed in water.

-Frogs have many predators, whereas toads emit a type of “poison” that keeps many predators from eating them.

-Frogs have high round eyes whereas toad eyes are more football shaped.

-Frogs hop long distances, and toads walk or do small hops.

-Frogs have narrower bodies and toads have rounder more broad bodies.

-Neither frogs nor toads give people warts.

We were lucky in that we were able to observe both frogs and toads this week, right in our neighborhood.

At dusk, we found a family of toads living near a neighbor's driveway

Our toad observations happened on a nice clear warm evening.

One of the toads, hopping along the driveway

The much bigger toad


Close-up of the big toad

Frog in the mud hole

Another frog...note the rounded eyes and narrow body. Also note that a frog has longer back legs than a toad of the same size does.

A frog looking right at us

Peeking out of the water

Where we found the frogs...yep, we still haven't gotten that pond in the ground. But right now, the mud makes for some good observations!


And then, to add a bit more challenge to it, we observed Jedi’s Fire Belly Toads ( Bombina Orientalis)–he has 2 of them as pets.  We tried to figure out if they were actually frogs or toads.  They have bumpy warty skin like toads, but they live in water much of the time.  We also have one with a narrow body and one with a broad body.

It turns out that Fire Belly Toads are neither true frogs nor true toads.  They are actually in their own family, Bombinatoridae, because their characteristics do not fit solidly into either the frog nor the toad category.  (Oddly enough, before we even knew that, Jedi named his pets “froggy” and “toady”.  And he must have had some inkling of the difference because the smaller narrower toad he named froggy…the large broad one he named toady.

Some other facts about our little Fire Belly Toads:

-Only male FBTs make noise…they bark like a dog when they want to mate.

-Our FBTs mate several times a day.  So far, we have not had any eggs laid though.

-The skin of our FBTs change color throughout the day, ranging from almost black to a very bright neon green.

-Froggy (the boy) spends 99% of his time (when he’s not mating… 😉 ) floating around in the water.  Toady (the girl) spends 99% of her time hiding in the cave on land.


Toady again



Behind the Scenes…Toy Rotation July 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 9:25 am

One thing we’re discovering more and more these days is that our particular children do a lot more when they have a lot less. We used to keep a lot of toys in our family room because we didn’t want the kids to be bored. What I began to notice is that they would spend a lot of time wandering around aimlessly, saying there was nothing to do. Then they’d just go from toy to toy, throwing them on the floor, leaving them, and not really playing with any of them. I refused to believe that they had the wrong kind of toys or not enough of them (they have toys in their bedrooms, the family room, and then a huge playroom in the basement…there are plenty of toys!) So, we decided to try something new…

Each week, I take every toy and book in the family room and put them in the basement or on the bookshelf, and then pull up a whole new stash. Since they don’t play in the basement for hours daily, a lot of the toys in the basement playroom sort of go unnoticed. So, I take up 2-3 puzzles, a couple vehicles, some dolls and doll clothes, puppets, a game or two, a couple baby Montessori-inspired toys, some playsilks, a couple of musical instruments and a Little People set, and then move them up to the family room. We have enough of each of these things to have a new set come upstairs once a week and not have to see them again for at least a month, so it’s always like having new toys! Plus, choosing things from each of these categories ensures that there is always something that each of the three children like to do… not an easy task for 3 kids ranging from 1 to 6 years old! I also don’t allow toys that are only for one person to be in the family room (they each have special toys that are just for them, and they must store them in their rooms…they can bring them down to play in the family room if they want, but they have to store them in their rooms…it keeps them from getting broken when other little hands decide to get into them!) I also don’t keep noisy toys in the family room..I want the toys in the family room to be imaginative and promote creativity, as well as keep our family room environment peaceful. They do have some noisy toys and some wild gross motor toys that we keep in the basement for those times where they need to just go crazy!

I also keep a book basket with 6-10 books in it for us to read together for the week (see What My Child is Reading posts for more about those). It helps to keep the baby from ripping 100 books off the bookshelf each time she wants a story. 🙂

The book basket & treasure basket. The treasure basket is a collection of random items--household, craft, and nature items--for the baby to explore using her senses. It's always very random! There are objects Bug can explore using taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing, and she loves to explore the basket!

The family room toy shelves (we also keep our musical instruments from Vietnam, as well as Jedi's Fire Belly Toads on the shelf too!)

We also try to keep a bin or basket of items from nature in the family room so that the kids can explore rocks, seeds, sticks, leaves, feathers, etc. any time they'd like to.


Tot School Tuesday

Filed under: Toddler learning — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 8:59 am

Tot School

Bitty Bug is 18 months old

While Monkey didn’t get to do any formal homeschooling stuff last week, Bitty Bug sure was busy!  She’s constantly on the move and loves to try anything new, so I’m always bringing out some new things for her to keep her busy.  (Although sometimes I don’t have to try too hard.  As I’m typing this, Bug is taking out all of the cloth napkins & table cloths and building herself a nest in the corner of the dining room! LOL!)

I like to keep a practical life or sensorial activity on the edge of the countertop so she has something to do when she climbs up there. Here, she's working on transferring pinecones from one bowl to the other. This helps her with developing whole hand strength, as well as eye hand coordination.

We also had beans in the tray this week. She used her hands to practice the pincer grasp, and later in the week she used a spoon to transfer from one bowl to the other.

I brought a bin of collage materials up from the art room this week. Bug and Monkey enjoyed making collages!

Working with her lids & containers again

Exploring the nature basket

Nature basket (before we moved it to an actual basket)

Exploring the nature basket

More collage work

Bug loved doing this...we happened to have her piggy bank out to put some money in it, and she wanted to dump everything out and put it back in. This was great for eye hand coordination!

Concentrating on the bank

Walking on the balance beam during one of Jedi's occupational therapy sessions

Another thing the OT had out...putting popsicle sticks into a tootsie roll bank. Monkey loved this!


Montessori Monday–Nature Basket July 26, 2010

Filed under: Exploring Nature,Preschool — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 11:49 am


Jedi is 6 years 8 months old, Monkey is 3 years 5 months old, Bitty Bug is 18 months old.

Last week was Vacation Bible School for Jedi and Monkey (and for myself as well, since I was one of the pre-k/kindy teachers).   As a result, we weren’t able to do any formal Montessori time last week, as I wanted the kids to focus on their VBS time.  But, we did do a few impromptu things. 🙂

I had the beans out for Bitty Bug to play with, but Monkey decided she wanted to practice using the spoon to scoop the beans from one bowl to the other.

Jedi wanted to work with the alphabet dragon. Monkey's not quite ready for it yet, as you really have to have some letter recognition to be able to put the puzzle together, but she liked watching Jedi. Jedi loved that when he was done, there was also a color pattern!

One of the things we worked on setting up this week was a nature treasure basket. With the treasure basket, the kids can put all of their (non-living) treasures into the basket, and then do some closer observations. All three children really love the basket! Currently, there is a smaller bird feather, a turkey feather, some fossils, rocks, pine cones, acorns, a red leaf, an avocado seed, some flowers, twigs & various grasses, and some coral that Bug broke off my big piece of coral. I also keep some smaller observation jars near the basket, and a magnifying glass.

Monkey with the basket

Really excited about her treasure!


What My Child is Reading July 25, 2010

Filed under: Reading — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 5:10 pm

It’s Sunday, so it’s time to switch up the book basket for the kids. Here’s what the kids are reading this week:

Awesome Amphibians by Jeff Bauer
This scholastic books is short but informative. It looks at various amphibians (it’s a non-fiction science book for very young children). Since our nature study is about frogs this week, I pulled out this book so that the kids can learn about frogs and other amphibians.


Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, Marla Frazee ( Illustrator)

 Everywhere Babies is an adorable board book that we’ve had for years.  It has the universal message that on the inside, all babies around the world need to be loved, that they learn, that they grow & develop, and that they are amazing.  But beyond the words are illustrations of that demonstrate that all babies and families are different.  Each page shows multiple types of families (including single parent, mixed race families, same-sex parents, adoptive families, traditional families, and intergenerational families).  There are also various races, body sizes, and developmental stages depicted. 


Baby at the Farm by Karen Katz

This adorable book is a touch & feel book that introduces babies to various colors, numbers, and textures, as well as the different animals that can be found on a farm.  Karen Katz books have always been a favorite of my babies during the first couple years due to the simple language, colorful illustrations, and gentle messages.


Raindrop Plop! by Wendy Cheyette Lewison, Pam Paparone

With simple sentences, this book introduces children to the concept of numbers.  A young girl goes outside on a rainy day and discovers just how much fun a child can have on a rainy day.  Each page, we see one more raindrop added to the story to illustrate the amount of time the girl is spending outside enjoying her day.


Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 by Bill Martin Jr., Michael Sampson, Lois Ehlert

For those that have enjoyed Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, here is the second book in the series, Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3.  This time, we are taken to the top of an apple tree where the numbers become the focus of heroism.  This book is a fun rhyming book that introduces number recognition and order.


There Was an Old Monster by Rebecca Emberley, Adrian Emberley

This book is a hilarious spin-off of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.  With nice contrasting illustrations, this book is a favorite of my older kids, who enjoy stories about monsters lately.


The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen, Jerry Pinkney
Who hasn’t heard this book?  This is the classic tale of the ugly duckling who became a beautiful swan, and is a fantastic story for illustrating prejudice and discrimination in a way that very young children can understand.

Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett

This book is a very clever adaptation of The Gingerbread Boy.  When a mom bakes some gingerbread babies, one escapes and causes a lot of mischief.   I think the illustrations in this book are absolutely remarkable, and the story keeps all of my children hanging on every word!

Children of the Dragon: Selected Tales from Vietnam by Sherry Garland; illustrator: Trina Shart Hyman

This is a longer book, but a beautiful one.  Since Monkey is Vietnamese, we try to incorporate her birth culture into our daily lives.  This book is a wonderful addition to her cultural teaching.  It tells several folk tales that are generally passed down from generation to generation in Vietnamese families.  The author is wonderful about including the history and cultural relevance about each folk tale as well.  This book, while geared more towards the 1st grade and older crowd, is a valuable resource for our family, and a very interesting introduction to Vietnamese culture.

Food Patterns by Nathan Olson

We have several books in the “patterns” series, including Farm Patterns and People Patterns.  Food patterns focuses on the use of food to make various patterns involving shapes & colors.  It’s a cute book and helps little ones develop a sense of order.

Outdoor Hour Challenge: Part 2–bird watching July 21, 2010

Filed under: Exploring Nature — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 3:08 pm
Here is the second post of the 2 part challenge…our bird watching!

Some scenery outside the bird watching area

Some flowers. Monkey learned really quickly why she probably shouldn't touch them...she tried and she said the middle was "spikey".

The bird watching area

Some interesting plants

Crab apple trees


Walking on the trail

A mushroom. Monkey was excited because she said it looked like a "Vietnam hat" (as she calls it. And of course, if it looks like something from Vietnam, she gets happy!)

The StoryTrail. The arboretum has a nature walk that features a page from a story book every few feet. This session's book was "Mouse in Meadow". I was so proud of Jedi for reading the entire story out loud!

Looking at pine cones

Jedi reading the story


Some trees from our walk

A tree with an interesting looking "tumor" type thing on the trunk


The most fabulous little natural play area

A climbing area made of tree trunks!

Tables, chairs, and building blocks all made out of trees

Blue Jay

Warbler (pine warbler?)

Possibly an Eastern Phoebe, but I couldn't see the side to know for sure.


Warbler, and possibly a sparrow (I really don't know the names of many birds...I'm trying to match the pictures to the ones in the field guide. 😉 )

More of the cardinal and warbler


A finch

Another Northern Cardinal


And a snake


Outdoor Hour Challenge–Part 1: Owls

Filed under: Exploring Nature — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 2:28 pm

This week’s Outdoor Hour Challenge was owls.  In addition to owls, there was a suggestion in the challenge to get out and do some bird watching.  And let me tell you, I had *no* idea Jedi was so into bird watching, but he is.  He was mesmorized by all of the different colors he saw on the birds and wanted to sit and watch them for a long time.  His little sisters weren’t quite ready to watch for hours though. 😉  So, one fantastic thing we learn doing these challenges is that our children have some very wonderful nature interests that might never have been discovered if they spent their days perched (LOL) in front of the tv.

Our Owl challenge was done using a couple different parts.  We went to our local arboretum to look at their display of stuffed owls (they were formerly alive and are now stuffed and on display).  We also went bird watching in the arboretum’s bird watching area as well as on their Storybook trail.  The third part to the challenge is listening to various owl calls.  And the fourth part was dissecting owl pellets.

Part 1–The Owl exhibit

The kids really enjoyed getting to see the owls up close.  We were able to compare the colors, feather patterns, and sizes between the various owls.

(Just a random chicken picture we saw at Jedi's occupational therapy appointment before we got to the arb)

One of the owls

Eastern Screech Owl

Barred owl

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl skull, egg, and talons

More talons and owl pellets

Great Horned Owl skull

Side view of a Great Horned Owl skull

Another owl...this one we got to touch. The feathers were incredibly soft and fluffy--not at all what I'd think that a bird would feel like!

 I’ll post the birdwatching & nature hike pictures in the next post…there are a lot of them, but I want to keep all of the owl pictures in one place.

These were courtesy of our wonderful Ohio Department of Natural Resources. I contacted them inquiring about field guides and they sent me 12 different field guides for Ohio animals, birds, & fish, as well as 3 CDs. Today, we used the Owl field guide and owl sounds CD. It was amazing to hear all of the different calls...there were 3-6 calls for each of the 8 common native Ohio owls, 4 native rare Ohio owls, 7 owls from the rest of North America that aren't in Ohio, and 3 owls that have been seen in North America that aren't native. We learned that many of the owl sounds actually sound very similar to cats! We also learned that we've often heard the monotonic trill of the eastern screech owl and never realized that's what it was!


Owl Pellet dissection

When Bitty Bug was sleeping, Jedi, Monkey, and I dissected 3 owl pellets that we bought from a fantastic little science store in Columbus.

Owl Pellets. They are remarkably light. They look like they would have a bit of mass to them, but they are very very light! I explained to the kids about how owls eat their prey whole, and then their special stomachs regurgitate the undigestable parts several hours later. The owl then "coughs" up the pellet.

We learned in our guide that the white stuff on the pellets is actually bird feces (go figure...) since the pellets often sit on the floors of barns that have many owls living in them. We also learned that outside of barns, pellets don't last very long because rain, wind, or other animals destroy them.

Jedi & Monkey dissecting their pellets. They are actually very tightly balled bundles of hair & fur, with some small feathers stuck in. Interwoven in the pellets are various bones & teeth.

The horsefly that kept irritating us while we were working!

The results of our dissection...we learned that our 3 owls ate 3-4 mice, 1 shrew, and 1 mole. Hungry little things, eh?


Outdoor Challenge extra–firefly observation opportunity July 20, 2010

Filed under: Exploring Nature — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 8:11 am

I was recently made aware of a research project that is happening regarding fireflies and why they seem to be disappearing.  Now, at our house, we have thousands of fireflies that we watch twinkle all summer long, but apparently that is not always the case everywhere.  So, I encourage everyone, whether you have fireflies or not, to participate in this research study with us.  It only takes 10 minutes a week to do…the researchers are trying to determine factors that may encourage or discourage fireflies from being in a particular area.

Here is the site with the information on it:

This is a great project to do with the kids…I know mine *love* going out and watching the fireflies!


Tot School Tuesday! July 19, 2010

Filed under: Toddler learning — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 9:45 pm

Tot School

Bitty Bug is 18 months old

This was a busy Tot School week for Bug.  We hosted our very own Montessori-based Traveling Tot School for the first time…we had so many precious little ones and their awesome mamas join us (thank you to all that came!!).  It was so much fun sharing our Tot School time with friends!  Here’s a recap of some of her work this week…

Bug still has a fascination of tiny things. Here she's putting some colorful glass beads into a jar (she's always carefully watched when playing with small things of course. But she has remarkable grasp and concentration when working with them and very rarely ever moves them near her mouth. But, of course, you need to know your child's limitations...if they are likely to swallow something or you just can't give them your full attention for that period of time, don't take the risk!)

More of the beads & jar

Here's bug working on preparing a snack. She's cutting bananas with a little pate spatula. She was *so* proud of herself for serving a snack!

Pouring a drink during the tot school playgroup. It's amazing what giving a "big kid job" to a little kid does for their behavior. Bug was so mellow and happy and just blissed out because she was able to be independent and meet her own needs...and she loved being a "big kid"!

Pouring water from jar to jar

Trying to match the tablets from Color Box 1

Serving herself some fruit salad. This work had the kids scoop some of the pre-cut fruit from the different bowls, and then mix them together in their eating dish.

Scooping sand from one bowl to the other using an Asian soup spoon

Exploring the treasure basket...a basket of objects with varying textures, sounds, weights, colors, materials, and smells. She loved going through the basket and working with everything!


This week’s books…

Filed under: Reading,Uncategorized — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 6:31 am


Here are the books in the book basket for this week…

I Don't Have Your Eyes by Carrie A. Kitze, Rob Williams ( Illustrator)

This book is a nice portrait of a transracial family due to adoption. The family is Caucasian with an Asian-adopted child. The child learns that while she doesn’t share her family’s looks, there are lots of things they do share!


You Are My I Love You by Maryann K. Cusimano, Satomi Ichikawa ( Illustrator)

  A sweet book about a father’s love for his little one.


Chameleon Swims, bilingual Vietnamese-English version, by Laura Hambleton

 We have the Vietnamese-English version of this book.  Monkey loves hearing the Vietnamese, and it’s a fantastic way to introduce a foreign language into her homeschooling.  (Since Monkey was born in Vietnam, she’s already had some exposure.  She also is currently obsessed with anything from Vietnam!)


I Love You Through and Through by Rossetti-Shustak, Caroline Jayne Church ( Illustrator)

A lovely gentle book about unconditional love for a little one.  As an added bonus, the book also teaches opposites!

1, 2, 3 To The Zoo by Eric Carle

 We’ve always loved Eric Carle books in our family.  This one does not disappoint, with the usual beautiful illustrations and simple sentences.  This book is fantastic at helping the little ones be exposed to colors, numbers, and zoo animals.



I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry

A colorful, humerous book about an octopus who thinks he is the biggest thing in the ocean.  The book also teaches the names of various aquatic animals.