Diary of a Mad Fat Girl

By the second page of Diary of a Mad Fat Girl I was laughing out loud. OUT LOUD. Stephanie McAfee sets the scene perfectly for a wonderfully fun read packed with interesting twists and turns – and true characters. By the end of the book I wanted Ace Jones as my new bestie.

Um, well, honestly?

I wanted to be Ace Jones.

Yes, you aren’t going to be on the edge of your seat with the comprehensive plot or intense situations, but you are going to snicker your ass off while getting caught up with the character’s dirty laundry while reading of Diary of a Mad Fat Girl. McAfee knows how to crank out a Southern-fried book full of ladies drinking sweet tea and lovers behaving badly.

This is the type of book that makes anything better – even a packed plane ride a full of ornery people. I guarantee you’ll be the one laughing out loud while everyone else is grumbling.

When her spring break plans are changed at the last-minute, Ace Jones is led down a bump-and-tumble road of events that could only happened in the unique town of Bugtussle, Mississippi. Instead of shrinking into the shadows, Ace runs head-first into the drama that starts unfolding around her, using her wit and quick humor to deal with one crazy situation after another.

But, when an old flame comes around, things change.

I found myself turning page after page, devouring the fun and trying to figure out how it would all end.

Check out what others are saying over at BlogHer and jump in one of the exciting book discussions taking place in the Book Club!

*Yes, I was provided a book and paid for this review by BlogHer, but the opinions are totally all my own.

Oh, the toddler years (and Piaget)

There are days that being a parent is really hard. Hey, there are lots and lots and lots of days when parenting is challenging. As an educator (before having kids), I had a very different style of behavior management than I do as a parent. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about and test out different educational concepts, styles, and philosophies. And I’ve realized that it goes out the window when I’m desperately trying to leave the house and the tot is frustrated because I won’t let her wear what she wants (no matter the weather).

Yeah.

But, I often do reflect on those educational concepts and philosophies to remind myself of those amazing people who explored and exposed others to the wonders and specialness of the developing mind, reminding us all that even in those tough moments, things will get better. And, Jean Piaget was one of those guys.

The early years of life are full of colors, sounds, experiences and experiments. Children learn through their senses along with interactions with others, which are sometimes good and sometimes not so great. Jean Piaget, a Swiss born biologist and psychologist, felt that every interaction establishes cognitive structure in children. Sure makes you think twice about using that cookie as a bribe for some good behavior, right? (which I totally did during potty training…)

So, here we go…

Piaget and the Child Developmental Model

Piaget came to his conclusions after spending time observing children while they were learning and playing. His research in the 1920’s was groundbreaking in the understanding of the workings of young minds. His ideas offered insight to adults as to the developmental stages of children creating opportunities to enhance learning in the classroom and adult interactions with children. His renowned child developmental model is based on the idea that the developing child builds structures or maps in response to understanding physical and cognitive experiences within her environment, which include:

Sensorimotor stage: (from birth to 2 years of age) During this stage the child is internally motivated to interact physically with her environment, building an understanding of reality and how it works. A child at this age is not aware of object permanence yet, which means she has not figured out when something is out of sight, it is still in existence.

Preoperational stage: (2 to 7 years of age) The child is yet to understand abstract reasoning and thinking and still needs concrete physical situations. This means using bribes to achieve desired behaviors may have negative consequences later in development, as the child does not understand the reasoning behind the process – just the result. And, like I stated above, I used bribery during potty training. Oops.

Concrete operational stage: (7 to 11 years of age) By this time the child has gained important knowledge through physical interactions with her environment and is starting to conceptualize and create logical structures from her experiences. The child is able to understand abstract reasoning and is ready for advanced learning concepts such as arithmetic.

Formal operational stage: (11 years of age and beyond) The child is now able to fully function as an adult as far as conceptual reasoning and understanding. She is ready for challenges and new experiences that will encourage her brain and understanding of the world around her.

Encouraging the Piaget Model

Through these stages, there are several ways adults can positively influence learning through Piaget’s concepts. Either within the classroom or in the home, the child greatly benefits from added support and encouragement. By taking a look at each stage of learning and actions that the child begins to master, the adult can find ways to offer positive reinforcement.

Sensorimotor – During this stage, the child is limited by her abilities. Basic characteristics include grasping, reaching, and reflexive behaviors. Adults can motivate a baby of this age to grasp by putting small toys outside of her reach or hanging a mobile over her crib. Reading with the child encourages language through listening to inflections and watching movements of the face. As a baby ages playing simple games such as “peek-a-boo” or hiding an object just outside a child’s reach encourages the understanding of object permanence and cognitive development.

Preocupational – Speech is one of the main advancements during this stage, with language taking up a large part of development. Along with figuring out the world through experimenting and asking lots and lots of questions, the child is also working out moral dilemmas and becoming less egocentric. This means that wonderful lack of object permanence will soon be gone, causing the child to become attached to a special blanket, toy, or parent – which can lead to extreme melt-downs. No joke.

This is a great time to play board games with simple rules or offer experiences for the child with basic steps. Taking turns and following directions is challenging at this age, but the more experience the child has leads to greater cognitive development.

Concrete operational – A child is ready for challenges at this stage. This means her cognitive development is motivated for advanced tasks that encourage multiple ways of thought, multi-tasking, and logical sequencing. Other models are essential to her cognitive development, with teachers, friends, and other adults encouraging her learning and evolution. Offering opportunities for advanced learning through educational or recreational activities is a way to hone skills and encourage individuality. If a child is excelling in the arts, encouraging classes in an area of interest is beneficial to her development and self-esteem.

Formal operational – Abstract thought has fully developed and the child is now ready to take on adult concepts and is able to demonstrate knowledge through proper use of symbols and abstract concepts. This does not mean the child is a fully functioning adult, but that her brain is honed to take on greater tasks and learning. This is a time for conversation and debate along with doing. The child’s thinking is less focused on concrete reality and is able to take on conceptual thoughts. Spending time talking through foreign concepts and problems encourages development and build cognitive growth.

Piaget’s model is one that offers insight and understanding of child development, which benefits teachers and parents alike. Encouraging kids during these stages provides much needed support and nurturing, and offers some wonderful opportunities for healthy bonding.

Dinner every night: Spinach

This week pretty much all our meals included spinach. I love fresh spinach and had picked up a couple of big bunches, which were happily added to our meals through the week. Even the tot enjoyed some finely sliced on her pasta. At first she wrinkled up her nose, but then hunger took over and she ate a whole bowl of her tuna, spinach mac-n-cheese.

Spinach is good stuff, full of healthy vitamins and antioxidants. Loaded with vitamin C and folic acid, spinach tastes great on just about everything. And, if you aren’t a big fan, purée some in your pasta sauce, mix fresh spinach with your dinner salad, or chop it up into itty-bitty bits and that spinach will blend right in with whatever you’re making.

I like tossing a few fresh leaves under toasty chicken or on top of grilled hamburgers. The big winner of the week was the garlic and oregano marinated chicken breasts over roasted chick peas (with spinach and homemade tzatziki sauce).

I’m not going to lie – it was a long week. The tot went to preschool on her own, which was big in our world. This was the first time we’d ever left her with anyone other than her Gamma and Opa, and the hubs and I were a bit on edge about the whole thing.

At pick-up, she told me to, “go home!”

Awesome.

We also did our taxes on Saturday, which went as I expected. I planned on owing, and owing I shall. We did enjoy a fun pizza night with friends and the husband had a successful photo shoot (even though his lame-ass (and not so awesome) beauty dish fell on my head). I’m looking forward to another fun week and also taking on the first challenge from the Yahoo! Shine Supper Club!

How was your week? Leave a comment and share your favorite recipe of the week!

*Top row from left to right: Slow roasted pork tenderloin over barley spinach risotto, garlic oregano marinated and seared chicken over spinach and white rice, alongside roasted chick peas (and homemade tziatziki sauce). Bottom row from left to right: Turkey sausage stuffed mushrooms and parmesan pasta with spinach, big mushroom simmered chicken thighs with spinach over mashed potato, boneless pork ribs over spinach polenta with fresh steamed asparagus and peas.

Simply circles

This week went by in a blur. The tot started going (one day a week) to a preschool all on her own – and she’s in love. I spent the first half of the week freaking out over actually leaving her (for the first time ever) with someone other than her Opa and Gamma. Yes, we’ve managed to get this far without babysitters, and, admittedly, are going a bit bonkers. So, when her first day went so successfully, the husband and I started breathing a bit easier – and realized it was time for our tot to spread her wings and fly a bit more (and now I have the song in my head – super cheese, but go listen if you want).

Fridays are the tot and I’s day off. We lounge about, head outdoors, do a few art activities, and try new recipes. This morning we kept things simple and focused on learning more about color and shape recognition with circles. This is a great toddler activity that also encourages organizing (cleaning!) as well as language and math skills. I gave the tot the big assignment of searching through all her toys for things in the shape of circles while putting all other things away.

And, she did it.

While I watched in amazement, I got out a couple of sheets of paper and our red, yellow, and blue tempera paint. Once she had a collection of circular items, we went through them discussing if they had any sides while comparing them with other shaped objects. We determined that squares have four sides, triangles have three, and circles look just like the letter “O.” I also added a few circle items to her mix such as a sliced lemon and a wine cork.

Then she helped me squeeze a bit of the red, yellow, and blue paint onto a sheet of scrap paper. She wanted green, and I explained to her that red, yellow, and blue are super-special colors called the primary colors that mix together to create other colors. During this discussion she did a lot of blinking and reaching for the circular objects…

I let her loose to press the circle stuff into the paint and then stamp, stamp, stamp on her paper. If your tot gets frustrated with her paper moving all about while creating, tape the edges so things stay in place. Make sure to have lots of extra sheets of paper on hand to edit while creating. I often switch out papers once things start mixing together into a big brown mess.

And, low and behold, while I was finishing the tot’s “organizing” she yelled out, “geeeen!” Sure enough, that color-theory lecture payed off! Once the simply circles creations are dry, invite your tot to select her favorite and proudly display it on the fridge.

Don’t have lots of circle stuff around the house? Do the activity with squares, or triangles, or rectangles. Or, make things even more interesting by assigning each shape a color (for example: triangles go in the red paint) and see if your toddler can follow the colorful directions!