"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Monday, January 31, 2011

Tiger Mother: Part 1

Reasons why I could never be a Tiger Mother:

1) I actually DO believe that everyone is special in their own special way.

2) I actually DO NOT believe that crafts are meaningless and lead nowhere. It's not always the product, it's the process. But, I guess that's sort of anti-Tiger Mother (and anti-6-hour violin practice session), too.

3) I praise my kids. A lot. Evan draws a squiggle on a page and I say, "Great writing, tell me what it says." Max signs "please" (or maybe he's just scratching his tummy...?) and I say, "Such nice manners, my sweet boy!" I praise them when they help out, I praise them when they jump really high, I praise them when they eat a good dinner, I praise them when they play nicely together, I praise them when they throw a ball kinda far. I praise them because it feels good to praise and to be praised, but I do it also because I just can't help it. I'm So Proud of my boys that sometimes the pride and love just burst out of me in the form of a hearty, "GREAT JOB, MY LOVE!" It's not my fault....have you met my kids?

4) I guess it's because I'm an American, but I'm just too Weak and Lazy to be a Tiger Mother. Who has the patience to enforce SIX HOURS of violin practice with an unwilling 6-year old violinist?! Who has the time?

5) I think it's mean to deny kids time for free-play. My whole life right now is all about playtime. There are teachable moments in that playtime, to be sure, and Evan goes to school/we run errands/etc., but I'm making a concerted effort to encourage MORE free play time and less Structure during our unstructured times. My kids are three and one. Playing is what they should be doing. They have their whole lives to work.

6) I will never, ever insult my kids. Ever. If one of my kids is overweight, I WILL encourage healthy eating habits and exercise. I will NOT call him or her fat. He or she will get that message loud and clear the very first time he or she opens a magazine or watches television. If one of my kids struggles in school, I will NEVER say the words dumb or stupid. I will help my child to work hard and to meet his or her potential. There are many definitions of success, and I will support my kids until they discover theirs. The world can be harsh and cold. I will be loving and warm. I will be honest, but I will be kind. I will provide my kids the safe place that every child (person) needs. My children will always know that, in terms of Who They Are, they can do no wrong.

Lesson Learned:
I'm only through Part 1 of the book. More opinions to come, to be sure...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tiger Mother

Have you heard of this book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua?

I'm sure you have. I'm usually the last to know about books that launch an international firestorm among mothers, child psychologists, journalists, and readers everywhere, as this one seems to have done. The buzz first began when excerpts of the memoir were printed in The Wall Street Journal before the book had been published. Since publication, the author has appeared on The Today Show, the issue of the Tiger Mother is spotlighted on the current cover of Time, and playgrounds and playgroups everywhere are on fire with talk/discussion/debate about the virtures and vices of the Tiger Mother.

But I missed all of that.

I discovered Tiger Mother when my three-year old almost bulldozed down the display of the book in Barnes and Noble today en route to the train table. As I helped him to pick up a few copies of the book from the floor, I thought, "Hm. Tiger Mother? I'm kind of an over-protective 'tiger mother,' maybe I should check this out..." So I brought one of the copies back to the kids' section to peruse while Evan hung out with Thomas the Tank Engine.

Turns out I am So Not a Tiger Mother. Apparently, "Tiger Mother," in the Chinese sense, refers to an authoritarian style of parenting so harsh, unrelenting, and demanding of excellence that Western parents (and more modern, cosmopolitan Chinese parents) are cringing in shock and sadness for those poor, tortured Chinese kids. And yet, Chua defends her parenting style, saying that, ultimately, we all want our kids to be happy. Western parents work to achieve that happiness by supporting their children and allowing them to follow their own interests. Chinese parents demand excellence and hard work from their children because, "nothing is fun until you're good at it." And being good at something requires a lot of hard work. And kids don't want to work hard. So you need to make them. By insulting them, punishing them for anything less than excellence, and requiring hours and hours and hours of practice, memorization, and study. Sounds like fun, huh?

I'm, like, the opposite of a Tiger Mother, as it turns out.

But, I think it's interesting to hear all sides of a story...all opinions and points of view, ESPECIALLY those that differ so dramatically from my own. So I'm reading the book. (I bought it through my iBooks app on my iPad and am deciding whether or not I like reading in this medium. So far there are several items on both sides of my mental pro/con list....Damn. More lists.)

I may come back and post some opinions on the book as I read. I'll definitely write a little review of the book when I finish and have formed a solid opinion of the book, the author, and the Tiger Mother, which, believe it or not, I have not yet formed. I'm keeping an open mind on this one. I bet she'll be able to teach me, the anti-Tiger Mother, a thing or two.

If you've read it, or want to join me, I'd love to hear what you think!

Lesson Learned:
This comes at such an interesting point in my life as a mom. Over the past few weeks, I have been making a concerted effort to Teach Less, Worry Less, Stress Less, Plan for the Distant Future Less, and Play MORE, Have Fun MORE, Be Present in Now MORE, and let my kids be Little MORE.....and here is a book that suggests that I am moving in the complete wrong direction. (I know I'm moving in the right direction for us. I'm not worried that this book will sway me to the Tiger Mother camp, but it'll be an interesting read nonetheless.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

to keep the doctors away

The other day, Evan asked for something "crunchy" for a snack. We decided on apples. Not one to be left out of snack time, Max wanted one, too.

 I love Baby-Led Weaning. I didn't think twice before offering my 15-month old a whole apple to gnaw on. Not that I'm comparing my kids, but Evan hadn't touched food with his fingers when he was 15-months old. He went straight to a fork. That had it's conveniences (he was a very clean eater), but there's just something adorable about a little-big boy eating a whole apple. And I'm not saying that Baby-Led Weaning did this....

....but maybe it helped.

And then there comes a point when it is made quite clear to me that I am to put away the camera.

Lesson Learned:
No matter what he's doing, it's too cute not to capture.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

mommy wars

Alternate Post Title: oh no she didn't!

Since the dawn of motherhood, mothers everywhere have been waging war against one another for no apparent reason other than to argue with someone other than their 3-year olds. The issues? Just about everything from boobs to penises. Breastfeeding or formula? Epidural vs. Natural. Oh, natural? Bradley or Lamaze?   Cloth or disposables? Bjorn or Moby Wrap? To vaccinate or to not?  To circumcise or to not? And, of course, the Mother of all Mommy Wars: Working Moms vs. Stay-at-Home Moms.
Every Mom thinks that She has the answer--that she's Right. Because the alternative, that she's not, is unbearable to consider....you would never knowingly make the wrong decision for your kid, would you?

Well, ladies, a new battle has been brewing. A new war waged. Have you heard? It's all over the internet, you know. This one's all about deception.

To Hide the Veggies or to Practice Full Disclosure of What's in that Muffin? That, is the question.

So in the first camp, we have the moms who own and have memorized Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook Deceptively Delicious. The idea behind this cookbook is that you can sneak some nutrition into your child's favorite foods by adding pureed fruits and veggies to sauces, dips, and baked goods that your kid is likely to already love. And standing opposite, is the loyal following of Catherine McCord's website weelicious.com. The idea behind Weelicious, is that your kid WILL eat healthy food if it is presented in an attractive way and if your child has helped you to prepare it. And, when your child eats healthy food and realizes that fruits and vegetables and whole grains are delicious, he will make healthier food choices later on in life, too.

(Now watch me get all bipartisan on you...)

You guys, I love both of these Mamas. I'm standing firmly neutral in this debate (unlike in just about every other Mommy War, where my colors were proudly flown) and incorporate EQUAL amounts of both philosophies of deception and full-veggie-disclosure in my everyday meal preparation. At every meal, my boys see Whole fruits and/or vegetables on their plates. I want my kids to be able to see and to recognize the food groups in their meals. If I know that my older, pickier eater won't touch the vegetable that I'm serving with the meal (which, if it's green, he won't), then I'll add a "safe" fruit or veggie (like carrot sticks or apple slices) to his plate. That way when I remind him to eat healthy bites, he'll have some choices.

That being said, Evan's healthy "choices" aren't exactly ideal, and certainly aren't varied. And Max, believe it or not, is becoming pickier by the day. So do I "sneak" a few veggies in here and there when I can? You bet I do. When I make meatballs, I throw some chopped, (defrosted) spinach in there. I add some ground flaxseed, too, for some extra fiber and omega-3. Do I call them Spinach and Flax meatballs? No. Of course not. They don't know it's in there, but I do. And it makes me feel a whole lot better about the amount of ketchup my kid dips the meatballs in.

I add spinach and flax to the boys' smoothies, too. I toss some frozen berries, a banana, some hemp milk, flaxseed, and baby spinach leaves in the Magic Bullet for a super nutritious afternoon snack...and you won't believe me until you try it, but you REALLY can't tell the spinach is in there! Do I say, "Hey, Evan? Want a green vegetabley smoothie today?" No. But he's seen me make it before. There's no need for a grand announcement.

Another sneaky trick I've tried: You can steam cauliflower until it's really soft and mash it into mashed potatoes. It's the perfect consistency and color to blend right in. And again, it's not like I'm hiding in another room while I prepare these sneaky meals....I'm just not listing each ingredient in our meal when we sit down to eat.

I totally agree with the idea that kids will choose to eat foods that are presented attractively, so you should find creative and pretty ways to serve vegetables to kids. I do make an effort to arrange food artfully on their plates when possible. But who are we kidding? How attractive can you make broccoli look to a picky, scared-of-green, 3-year old? Chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese are what look attractive to a lot of kids. So if, in a moment of desperation, you find yourself adding some cauliflower puree to your chicken nuggets, or squashed butternut squash to your mac'n'cheese, don't beat yourself up. If you keep offering it, someday your kid, too, may eat something green. Until then, you can get a little sneaky.

Lesson Learned:
Regardless of your stance on the deception issue, we all have the same goal, right? Get the Greens in the Kid. My Mommy Mantra has lately become Do What Works. So do what works, mama. And consider it a victory if you managed to get a few grapes in your 3-year old today, okay?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

NOT for eating

It's the end of January, which means it's almost February, which means it's PRACTICALLY Valentine's Day, which, of course means....time to get crafty!

Last year, we made chocolates...yummy, allergen-free, heart-shaped chocolates with pink and white and red sprinkles in them. They were Great. This year, because we were making treats for Evan's preschool pals, I wanted to go with a non-candy option. So......We made our own Valentine Crayons!

Step 1: We gathered all of our Valentine-colored crayons (pinks, reds, purples, whites) in as many different shades as we could find. Luckily, we have a TON of crayons in this house because this project takes a lot (if you're making enough Crayons for a whole class, anyway).

Step 2: Peel 'em. Because we had so many crayons, this took forever. And Evan wasn't interested in helping with this part, so I did a lot of crayon-peelin' during Quiet Time.

Step 3: Smash 'em. This part, Evan loved. We put them in a big Ziploc and Demolition Man Evan and his trusty rolling pin got the job done.

Step 4: Pour the crayon crumbles into a lined cupcake pan, filling each cup about 1/3 full or more if you want a thicker crayon. (I would recommend more...maybe 1/2 full.)

Step 5: Bake at 200 for about 20 minutes, until the crayons are all melty and swirly. You'll want to watch them closely, and not increase the heat past 200.

Step 6: Let them cool for an hour or so and then pop them out!

And done!
Or not. Somehow, even though we peeled about a million crayons, we ran out of Valentine-colors and only made 12 (too thin) crayons. There are 14 kids in his class. So....Plan B. We re-purposed a silicone Wilton heart-shaped cupcake pan into a silicone Wilton heart-shaped Crayon pan.

And this time, we used all the colors of the rainbow....um, just a little short on the red and pink ends of that spectrum.

I love these. And I love that Evan helped make them.....at least some of them.

Lesson Learned:
So it's Valentine's Day...Who needs chocolates?!
(Um....me. And apparently, Max. He seemed utterly bewildered by the fact that we were taking something out of the oven, and NOT letting him eat it. He was less than amused by this project.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

the known

In a world of uncertainty, there are things that I do, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Know.

I know....
...that I was born to teach. Someone. Something.
...that I'm a better mom because of my experience as a kindergarten teacher in a Title 1 school.
...that I would be a better teacher now that I've had experience as a mom.
...that I prefer vegetables to fruit.
...that I'm even MORE liberal than you think I am.
...that I'm more spiritual than you would guess.
...that I have a hard time saying the words, "I'm sorry," but not feeling it.
...that as much as I love a Girls' Night Out, I'm happier in my jammies on the couch.
...that becoming a mom has simultaneously made me a more confident person AND made me want to second guess every decision I make.
...that I don't listen to music as much as I used to and I miss it.
...that my sensitive little Big Boy gets his sensitivity and anxiety and worrisome nature from me.
...that my fat-and-happy little Baby Boy is becoming more Big Boy every day, and that makes me equally happy and sad.
...that I can't help but take it personally when someone else "corrects" my kids.
...that I'm a very good listener.
...but sometimes I talk too much.
...that I'm a list-maker.

And things that I Don't.

I don't know...
...how to resist the urge to Teach. I should concetrate more on Parenting.
...how to accept criticism constructively.
...how to be as patient as I would like to be.
...how to accept the fact that Evan doesn't, and probably never will, want to do crafts and projects with me.
...how to control the Accumulation of Stuff that is going on right now in my life.
...how to stop being lazy during our afternoon Quiet Time.
...how to get out of the rut we're in with our dinner menu.
...how to keep in better touch with my oldest friends.
...how to stop making so many damn lists.

Lesson Learned:
I'm not a "Resolutions" person, but in 2011 maybe I should start working on that Don't List.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

yay for learning!

Here's another great phonics game I dug out of the ol' kindergarten box:

When making your own phonics puzzles, stick to three-phoneme words at first....words that have three distinct sounds, like in cat: /c/ /a/ /t/....to make it easier for your preschooler to complete the puzzles independently. This way they can use the shapes as much as the letter clues to put the puzzles back together.

I did include words that contain digraphs and blends (like /sh/ in "fish" and /fl/ in "flag"), but only separated the picture card into sound segments (so the "fish" card is cut into a /f/ piece, a /i/ piece, and a /sh/ piece, and "sheep" is broken into /sh/-/ee/-/p/ pieces).

Lesson Learned:
It's fun! Really, it was!
For about three minutes. Then Evan said, "Hey, I know! Wanna go work on that house upstairs? I think the lumber finally arrived." And we were back to playing Tool Man Evan and Tool Man Mommy. Oh, well.

Friday, January 14, 2011

no, thank YOU

We wrote post-holiday Thank You Notes last week. After we wrote a note to Evan's teachers, I asked him if he wanted to sign his name. He said he did. I expected some tiny scribbles, like usual. Instead, he did this:

Lesson Learned:
This totally shocked me. Maybe he's been practicing writing his name in the middle of the night instead of sleeping.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

a textbook case

The foxes were Evan's Imaginary Friend Practice Round, as it turns out. For the past few days, we've had a Tyrannosaurus Rex named Annie living with us. She came on Monday afternoon for a sleep-over (her parents came, too, because she was a little nervous about going anywhere without them). The three of them have had so much fun, though, that they've decided to stay awhile. The interesting thing about their arrival is that they came just two days after a Major Meltdown over Evan going somewhere without Sam or I. (Evan was having the meltdown, not me.) The issue was resolved (once we figured out WHAT the issue was...the incomprehensible screaming and thrashing made it difficult to communicate effectively) by Sam going along with him. And now, we have a little Tyrannosaurus at our house, who needs her parents with her because being by herself in a new place makes her nervous. Hmmmmm....

Monday night at dinner, Evan climbed into his chair and looked at the table.

"Mommy, you forgot to make a dinner for Annie!"

"Oh, well....what would she like to eat?"

"Just meat, Mommy. She's a carnivore." (Thank you, Dinosaur Train and PBS Kids!)

Before bedtime, I was reminded to brush Annie's teeth. I kissed Annie goodnight after tucking her in bed beside Evan.
We hosted our weekly neighborhood Playgroup at our house this week. Playgroup can be a stressful time for Evan, particularly when it's at our house (the mess, the noise, the sharing, etc.). This week was a small group, so it was pretty quiet, but about halfway through, I could see that Evan was starting to feel stressed. Sure enough, he came over to me and said, "Mommy, I think I'm going to go get Annie. She's upstairs." When the two of them came back down, Evan introduced Annie to the other moms: "This is Annie. Her mommy and daddy are up in the guest room. They're sleeping in."
Today was a school day...only the second school day since before the Christmas holiday due to snow. There was stress. There was anxiety. There was worry. But it wasn't Evan's.

"Mommy....um. I think Annie's a little nervous about going to preschool."

"That's okay. You can help her to feel better about preschool by telling her all about it. You can tell her about how much you love your teachers and how it will be so nice to see them again. You can tell her about the friends you'll see, and the Centers you might play in. You can bring her to the Writing Center--you said you wanted to draw a picture for Mom Mom and Pop, Annie can draw something for her mommy and daddy. You can tell her that preschool is fun."

"......Or maybe YOU could tell her about that stuff, Mommy."

And so I did. Until a little shy smile crept across his face.

"Annie feels better about preschool now, Mommy."

Lesson Learned:
I'll welcome Annie (and her parents) into our home. I'll make her meals, brush her teeth, put on her shoes, tuck her in, kiss her goodnight, and, apparently, babysit her while her parents sleep in. And I'll do it all with patience and a smile on my face because Annie is a Classic Imaginary Friend to my little boy. She will carry his stress and worry his worries. She will reflect his emotions and absorb his insecurities. She will do for him what I can't. At least I hope she will. And so I hope she stays.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the great pretender

We have a family of foxes living in our backyard. There are at least five of them, some days as many as ten. There's at least one baby in the bunch, and that's the Friendly Fox. But they're all Good Foxes. Evan has tried to name them, but it's hard to keep that many foxes straight. They keep coming back because Evan feeds them every day. Before he sits down to eat his own meal he opens the back door, calls them, and sprinkles some food out on the deck for them. Evan just loves these foxes. They even came with us to Mom Mom and Pop's house after Christmas. They rode on a trailer that was hitched to the back of our van. They're pets, maybe....or friends. And they're completely imaginary.

He's a great pretender, that Evan. And I would just love to know what Max thinks about the whole thing. Max is at that wonderful age where he's big enough to understand everything, but little enough to make you think that he must be some sort of genius when he does. When Evan opens the back door and sprinkles "food" out for his "foxes," is Max thinking, "Oh, I hope I get to see the foxes this time!" or is it more like, "Uh, guys? You DO know there are no foxes, right?" I can't tell if he's playing along or not.

But watching Evan pretend is nothing new for Max. In fact, Max is often the star (willing or not) of Evan's play scenarios. Today we were playing pirates. (Pirates who did more marine-life rescues than swashbuckling--it was amazing how many baby whales were abandoned by their mothers and needed Us Pirates to push them up to the surface--but pirates nonetheless.) Max was an able deckhand at the start of the game. When we happened upon Dinosaur Island, he became a fierce and fearsome Plesiosaurus. And when the seas became rough, we hoisted our little baby up to the tippy top of the mast to serve as our Look Out.

I think my favorite scene from today's story line was when Evan the Pirate ordered Max and I to "walk the plank." I thought he was commandeering our vessel, but it turned out we needed to "just unhook the anchor, 'kay?" We were given life preservers before we walked. When the anchor was unhooked, Evan the Pirate gave another order: "Mommy and Max Pirates, Unwalk the Plank!"

Lesson Learned:
It was a pretty lazy day, today...stuck at home due to icy roads. But that's just the right kind of day for some Imagination Development, which is just about all we did, and I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

go with the flow

I was an undergraduate psychology major when I first heard about Flow. You've experienced Flow, a term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, if you've ever become so totally and completely absorbed in a task that you lost all track of time. It happens when you're engaged in an activity that requires skill and concentration, but that you also find enjoyable and, to varying degrees, challenging. Flow can be experienced during physical activities, artistic expression, or mental exercise. I learned about Flow right about the same time that I was discovering Buddhism. Flow seems closely related to meditation, to me. In both Flow and meditation, you lose yourself. Or, maybe not lose, maybe it's that you dissolve in the activity, Become One with a physical activity or a state of consciousness. It's transcendent.

I have read about Flow again recently in a number of different articles. Mostly, it's written about in relation to it's impact on Happiness. People who have experienced Flow describe the joy that they feel when they are completely absorbed in a task. The happiness is lasting; people who experience Flow on a regular basis report that they are Happier than those who don't. This makes sense...people who have the resources and freedom to lose themselves in enjoyable activities (exercise, hobbies, etc.) may have more time or money than those who don't, and if you're strapped for time or cash, you're probably not as happy as those who have either or both in spades. Or maybe the reverse is true...perhaps happier people make it more of a priority to carve out time for their own hobbies and self-fulfilling interests.

Regardless, Flow is correlated with Happiness. Flow is also correlated with high levels of learning and productivity. This, too, makes sense. If you are completely absorbed in a task that you find enjoyable, and you are not distracted from the task by interruptions, you SHOULD be more productive and be learning something from it.

So what's my point?

My point is: I'm going to encourage my Kids to Flow.

If Evan is completely absorbed in his construction site or his pretend play Tool Man Evan scenario, I'm going to let him be. I have been feeling very pressured lately (by myself), to Teach Him. He already knows his letters and sounds (I didn't do that, I have the Leap Frog movies to thank for that. Which, by the way, he watches in the car. And I don't feel guilty about it. I engage my kids in a rich and stimulating environment all day. The 10-minute drive to Target? That's Me Time.) and he can count to about 13 and recognize the numbers 1 through 10, but shouldn't he KNOW more by now? He is almost FOUR, you know!

And then a friend of mine passed along this, about what a 4-year old should know. And you know what? The author's right. I'm going to take a step back. I'm going to offer experiences and opportunities for learning, but I'm going to follow the lead of my boys. If playing pretend Tool Man ALL DAY LONG is what Evan wants to do, I'm going to let him. While engaged in this pretend play scenario, he's practicing skills that are just as important (and arguably more important) than handwriting, phonics, and arithmetic: skills such as using his imagination, story-telling, and problem solving. These skills, along with listening skills, fine motor skills, and the ability to follow directions (which are skills taught through daily interactions and activities within a household), are what he's going to need to be successful in school. The rest will come. And if creative play is his Flow, then that's where the real learning and happiness is anyway. Why would I want to interfere with that?

He'll learn to read. Maybe not at 4, but he'll learn. And if his handwriting sucks, well, that won't hold him back. I'll foster the creative play while he's into it (and while he's setting such a good example for his little brother) and I'll encourage exploration into other avenues of development when he shows an interest. And then, when it's time, I'll send him to school.

Lesson Learned:
When talking to a mommy friend today about our preschoolers, she was telling me about some overheard mother-of-2-year-olds who "homeschool preschool" their toddlers. "It's not homeschooling," my friend said, "it's parenting."

Sometimes you have to put down the parenting books, resist the urge to Google, and just let your kids be kids.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

to record for posterity...

...and to look back to when my boys are older and I find them fighting like Muhammad Ali and....wait. Ummmm....Joe Frazier? That's another boxer, right? Anyway, you get my point.

I wanted this moment from today recorded somewhere and here seems like the best place to do it.

The three of us were upstairs playing on the boys' climbing/slide thing. Max, who is trying so hard to Do Everything Himself, went down the slide a little too fast and stood up a bit shaky and whimpery. Evan went over to console him and gave him a really sweet, really gentle hug and kiss. This cheered Max up immensely, who hugged Evan back and was all smiles once again.

Evan looked at me with a huge, proud, Big Brother smile on his face and said, "I filled Max's heart with all the love that I had and it made him happy."

Lesson Learned:
I just love this kid.

Monday, January 3, 2011

do it yourself

So you just blew your disposable income (and then some) on Christmas and then you remembered that you forgot to buy that super cute set of over-priced, must-have, Beginning Sound Matching cards. And you Must Have them because if you don't teach your toddler his letters and sounds now, you can kiss college good-bye.

No worries, mama. Well, no worries about the silly game cards, anyway. You can worry about college (your BABY! Leaving Home! SOB!!!) as much as you need to.

I made these when I was teaching kindergarten and they are finding a new life in Evan's Independent Quiet Time Box. (Which is such a misnomer because the activities are done neither independently nor quietly. And actually, they're not even in a box. It's more of a basket.) You can make them while you watch The Bachelor, which may or may not be what I'm doing right now. (May. Okay, Is.)

To make a set of self-checking beginning sound matching puzzle cards.

26 4x6" index cards
foam letters (I found foam letter stickers, which saved time)
markers or stickers or clip art

Stick one letter on the left-hand side of the index card. On the right, draw a picture of something that begins with that letter. If you're not into drawing, you can find stickers or clip art to do the job. Or look for pictures in magazines, catalogs, etc. When thinking of pictures, think of common vocabulary words that your preschooler will know (For instance, he'll call a "toad" a "frog," so for T draw a turtle instead.) And skip the digraphs...I once saw a beginning sound game that matched a "shoe" with the letter S. And that's just Stupid.

Repeat for each of the 26 letters.

Cut the cards apart between the letter and the picture. Cut each card uniquely so that there's only one right "answer" for each letter card.

Mix 'em up and let your budding Valedictorian have at it.

Lesson Learned:
So don't buy it. Make it yourself. Cheaper, cuter, better. And once you've made these beginning sound cards, you can make rhyming pairs, number matching cards, picture/word match cards, etc.