Summer School 2021

It seemed like the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics would never get here, and now they’ve already come and gone. Here’s a look back at our Japan-themed summer school.

We visited Origami in the Garden at the Missouri Botanical several times over the summer. The large-scale art installation was the perfect field trip to coincide with Tokyo 2020 (and was also postponed from last summer).

We also visited the Olympic Spectacular in St. Louis at Francis Field, home of the 1904 Summer Games:

I made a few fun treats for the Olympics…Olympics torches (white chocolate covered pretzels) and Team USA CHEERios treats.

We did a lot of cooking and tried a lot of Japanese foods. I worked really hard to find things we hadn’t had before, and used a variety of cooking methods and unfamiliar ingredients. We tried:

  • Spicy Ramen/Udon
  • Pork Gyoza
  • Coffee Jelly
  • Okonomiyaki
  • Matcha Mochi Cake
  • Vegetable Tempura
  • Potato Korokke
  • Fluffy Japanese Cheesecake
  • Kani Cream Korokke
  • Chicken Katsu Sandwich
  • Matcha Green Tea Cookies
  • Oyakodon

We were supposed to go out to a Japanese restaurant this summer, but COVID-19, so we got a party platter of sushi instead:

I’ve been holding on to the Lego Architecture Tokyo skyline since last year, and we finally got to build it!

Our American Girl dolls got into the Olympic spirit:

In between watching as much of the Olympics as we could, we also did some more traditional school work. We learned about Japanese history and culture, as well as the history of the Olympics. We read a lot of books…some I read out loud, and some were book basket choices. We also watched a selection of Olympic documentaries:

  • FirstLondon 2012
  • The Everlasting FlameBeijing 2008
  • Atlanta’s Olympic GloryAtlanta 1996
  • 16 Days of GloryLos Angeles 1984
  • Athens 2004: Stories of Olympic Glory
  • Seoul 1988

And we also did several crafts, including origami, paper lanterns, Koinobori (Japanese carp windsocks), pipe cleaner and tissue paper cherry blossom branches, and medals (of course!):

I’ve been holding on to Ticket to Ride: Japan since last year, and we finally had a chance to play! I really enjoyed the new game mechanics introduced in this edition, and it was fun to get to know the geography of the area a little bit better.

We updated our medal chart every evening…here’s a look at the final results…we were very excited that the US won the gold medal race and had the most medals overall!

And, better late than never, our Family Olympics, which was delayed due to heat. We only had four events this year (frisbee throw, broad jump, soccer kicks, and a running race), thanks to time constraints and a lack of basketball hoops on the backboards we normally use. Technically, Turkey came in first, but since we participate as a family, we all won gold!

This summer school was a long time coming. I think we all still have mixed feelings about the fact that the Olympics were held at this time, but we had to just accept that that was out of our control, and embrace the Olympics as we usually do. It’s always hard to say goodbye when they extinguish the flame, but the Winter Olympics are less than six months away, and we only have to wait three more years for Paris 2024!

Chickadee Thursday

Chickadee is working on a Hamilton-themed room in Animal Crossing…I love it! (Please also note that she is wearing a Frozen-style dress…it’s like all of her interests collided in this one picture!)

She was very excited that her birthday reward from American Girl was delivered today, too! In less than two weeks, she’ll be as old as Turkey was when she was born!

Dreaming of Travel

American Girl has a new World Traveller collection for their Truly Me line. I don’t know if they created it because so many people’s travel dreams are on hold due to COVID-19, or if it’s something they would have produced anyway, but the timing is perfect. Even though we don’t have any Truly Me dolls, that didn’t stop us from ordering outfits for our historical characters. So we have Julie (1970s) in France, Courtney (1980s) in England, and Maryellen (1950s) in Ireland:

There are also outfits for Japan (which I’ve put away for summer school, assuming we actually get to learn about Japan during the Tokyo Olympics this summer), and Italy. I think this is a really cool new range, and I wouldn’t mind if they added some more countries to the collection. For a family who watches episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe on pretty much an endless loop, this is another fun way to dream of visiting new places!

Chickadee Thursday

Chickadee has been saving her money for a long time, and she decided she wanted to finally get a second American Girl doll. She picked Julie, one of the few dolls that someone in this house doesn’t already own, and as soon as she got her out of the box, the first thing she said is Julie’s outfit is “groovy!” Also, Chickadee lost another tooth this week!

Seven!

This was the very rare year where Turkey’s and Chickadee’s birthdays fall in the same calendar week. Today was Chickadee’s turn…she is now seven!

We started the day early with present opening and cinnamon rolls. Chickadee was very excited not only to receive a new stuffed elephant, but also her first American Girl doll, and some clothes and accessories to go with her:

We spent the morning at the St. Louis Zoo, where we saw quite a few animals, including Chickadee’s favorite…the elephants:

We spent the afternoon watching Sailor Moon. After a dinner of Pizza Hut, we continued the day’s theme with an elephant-shaped birthday cake:

It’s hard for me to believe that my youngest child is seven. The years since Chickadee’s birth have gone by especially quickly, and I’m constantly surprised to realize what a big girl she is now!

The Top Five–Children’s Toys

Time for another “Top Five” list…and this time, I actually kept it to exactly five! Today I’m looking at my favorite children’s toys…and with one exception, they’re all toys I played with when I was a child, in addition to all being toys my children have enjoyed/still enjoy playing with!

  • Little People–Fisher Price’s Little People were originally introduced in the 1950s. The barrel-shaped, armless, Little People I had (including those that came with the iconic house and the farm), looked quite a bit different from the chunky, more-detailed ones my children have played with, but the basic concept is still the same, and they’re extremely sturdy! They have been the basis for many hours of imaginary play!
  • Lego–Lego is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the brick this year! Of course the Lego company has gotten bigger over those years, and the sets have become more complicated, especially as they have introduced licensed lines, but the bricks themselves really haven’t changed. As a matter of fact, it’s my understanding that the first Lego bricks, the Lego bricks I played with, and the zillions of Lego bricks in our house today, just waiting for someone with bare feet to step on them, will all work together. That is impressive commitment to standardization and quality control! I’m also not ashamed to admit that I’m still building with Lego bricks, as is Ryan, so this is one toy that is literally enjoyed by every single person in our house!
  • American Girl/Beforever–What we know as American Girl today started as the Pleasant Company in 1986. I had one and only one American Girl doll when I was a child (Kirsten), and I still have her today. Bunny and Ladybug have…well, way more dolls, some they received as gifts, and some they saved their hard-earned money to purchase themselves. In addition to being very high quality (my doll still looks great 25+ years later!), they’re a great tool for learning about history. And not only do they encourage imaginative play, they also encourage reading, because you just have to learn the story of your doll! Like Lego, this is a toy that I’m still playing with, and I even added a second doll to my collection last year when the children gave me Melody for my birthday!
  • Crayola–Crayola crayons have been around since 1903! I don’t know if everyone would consider drawing materials (plus all of the other fabulous arts and crafts stuff Crayola makes) to be toys, but I do. They inspire so many hours of creativity, and what parent doesn’t have a house filled with artwork created with Crayola? And there’s something special about the smell the first time you open a new box of crayons…
  • Build-a-Bear–This is the most recent toy on the market to make my list (they were founded right here in the St. Louis area in 1997, and their first store opened in the St. Louis Galleria), and the one toy here that I didn’t play with in my childhood. The stuffed animals are high quality, and let’s face it, getting to make your own bear, make as wish on its heart, “wash” it in the store, and dress it is a lot of fun! Of course, it can also get expensive really quickly, but that’s true for pretty much all toys. If you’re feeling really crazy, you can even have a child’s party in store, and they even have a new concept called the Build-a-Bear Bakeshop where you can decorate cupcakes and enjoy other treats.

There are so many other toys my children have enjoyed playing with over the years…pretty much anything made by Fisher-Price, Webkinz, Leapfrog, Transformers, and My Little Pony to name a few, but these five are really special, and I hope they’re around for a long time to come!

American History with American Girl

Our family has a long history with American Girl’s historical dolls (now called BeForever), beginning with me. I have both the oldest and (almost) newest dolls in our house. I received the now-retired Kirsten over 25 years ago, and Melody was a birthday gift from my children this summer.

Bunny is the proud owner of the most dolls in our home…six of them, including two pairs of friends, (which is currently half of our total collection!), at least half of which she’s purchased with her own money over the last seven years:

And Ladybug has a nice collection of four dolls, including one pair of friends and the two dolls in our cumulative collection that represent the earliest parts of American history:

The dolls we own embody American history from the Revolutionary War era (Felicity) through the Civil Rights era (Melody). The total American Girl/BeForever line covers America’s past from the time before the Revolutionary War (Kaya) through the 1970s (Julie).

Our dolls personify the times of three different wars (Revolutionary, Civil, and WWII), the yellow fever epidemic of 1853, pioneer days, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Era, plus everything in between.

The girls (and I) love playing with the dolls, but American Girl is so much more than that. If you’re familiar with the company, you know that each historical character has always come with a series of books that allow the reader a glimpse into daily life in that time period. That books have changed format since the years I had the first editions (which I read so many times they felt apart long before I had children!), but the stories have remained the same. So while we don’t have all the dolls, we do have all the book series, for our dolls, and dolls we had hoped to buy but weren’t able to before they retired, and dolls we still hope to add to the collection someday.

We have used those books in our homeschool studies since the very beginning. When the children were smaller, I read the books out loud for fun, and they loved the interesting stories they were hearing without even realizing they were getting a glimpse into American history. I have used them to supplement special summer school units (especially in 2010, when we learned about colonial America, and this year, when we studied the pioneers and Westward Expansion), and as the basis for a “Christmas through American history” study, which included craft and food ideas that came to us while reading. I’ve also read them alongside  our regular history lessons, and of course, the older two girls have read through them all on their own. And now I’m starting again, from the very beginning with Kaya, and will read through the full scope of American Girl American history through Julie’s time to Chickadee, who isn’t quite old enough to read them herself.

We have been able to cover so many topics with the help of these books. We’ve learned fun things, like what holiday and birthday celebrations were like in the past, and we’ve learned hard things about wars, racism, injustice, and parents and friends dying. We’ve learned what it was like to be a child through all these different events, and while the books are clearly marketed towards girls, the boys have listened to the stories and learned some things, too.

The historical information isn’t limited to only the books, either. The dolls and their accessories have allowed us to get a good look at the fashions of different eras.  Bunny has even been inspired to make clothes for her dolls herself! We have had hands-on experience with what school supplies and lunches looked like throughout history. We’ve seen how children might have spent their free time. We’ve even had glimpses of what furniture looked like at different points in history!

And, for those more STEM inclined, American Girl has even had a place in our math lessons, and the more dolls we collect, the more fun we have! Chickadee can practice her counting by identifying how many dolls have blond, brown, black, or red hair, or she can sort them by eye color or other identifying features. We can use the information she gives us to make graphs and do statistics…what percentage of our dolls have freckles? Pierced ears? Curly hair? It’s very basic math, but it’s a start, and very fun and hands-on when you’re five!

We’re not done collecting…Chickadee hasn’t even received her first BeForever doll yet, but she has an idea of which one she wants to be her first (one that none of us have yet). We wait with anticipation every time we hear a new doll is coming, because we can’t wait to learn her story.  And we’re always keeping an eye out for new fashions for the dolls we have, and we all will save our money when there’s something new for one of our dolls. I love the way American Girl has helped history come alive for my children, through play and imagination and books that show us what the past was like!

American Girl Night at the Ballpark

Tonight was American Girl Night at Busch Stadium, so of course I had to take the girls. It was very fun!

We had good seats:

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The highlight of the evening was seeing Kolten Wong hit a grand slam…very exciting! Ladybug has been wanting to see a grand slam for a long time, so it was a dream come true for her, and I enjoyed watching her excitement. We had a very fun girls’ night out!

Ladybug Turns Seven!

Today is Ladybug’s seventh birthday. I’ve been looking forward to this birthday for almost a year. Here’s why:

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Last year, not long after Ladybug turned six, American Girl announced that they were retiring the one doll Ladybug had always wanted…Molly. She thought this meant that she was never going to be able to have her. What she didn’t know, was that I went out and bought Molly the day they announced the retirement, and put her away for this birthday. Ladybug was confused when she opened the box, and then ecstatic. I’m so happy we could do this for her!

For the first time, she requested a non-decorated cake for her birthday. She decided she wanted me to make the Schlafly sticky toffee pudding cake. I was happy to comply!

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Happy birthday little Ladybug!

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Retiring Molly

Today was kind of a sad day:

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This was sad for me because Molly was the last of the original three American Girl dolls standing. They had already retired the doll I had (Kirsten), and the doll most of my friends had (Samantha), plus the not-quite-original, but also not-quite-second-wave doll (Felicity). While they have introduced new characters, there was something about knowing that one of the dolls that had been in the catalog when I was a little girl was still in the catalogs that my girls pour over.

This was especially sad for Ladybug, because Molly is the doll she wants. Ever since she got her glasses when she was three, and noticed that Molly had glasses, too, she has been waiting to get her. Seeing the Molly movie several times has just made Ladybug love her more. I almost got Molly for her birthday this year, but I didn’t think Ladybug was quite responsible enough to take care of her. Hearing this news was rather crushing, I’m afraid.

American Girl claims to have new historical projects on the horizon, and I hope this is true. I’m sure the “Dolls of Today” are big money makers for them, but I’d hate to see them abandon what made the original company great…focusing on American history!