by Kathy Higgs-Coulthard
You’re a lifelong reader. You understand the inherent joy in creeping around corners with Harriet M. Welsh, hiding behind potted ferns to jot notes on Ole Golly and Mr. Waldenstein; the horror in sitting next to Fern at the Arable kitchen table and seeing Papa walk toward the barn with his ax; the devastation in learning along with Travis and Arliss that a beloved lab has hydrophobia and must be put down.
You’re a lifelong reader and you want your kids to be one too. You model your passion for great books by reading in front of your kids, reading with your kids, and sneaking off for a few minutes of quiet reading. When a polar vortex is on the horizon, you head not to the grocery store to stock up on staples like milk and bread, but to the library to grab books. When packing for long car rides, trips to the beach or a favorite camp ground, books are as important as a full tank of gas. You realize that no child is ever too young to be read to and that the comfort of a great story transcends teenage drama to connect families on a cozy couch. You do all the right things to instill a love of reading in your children.
But a study by the University of Michigan shows that the amount of time our children spend reading drops nearly 20% between the ages of 5 and 9. That statistic worries me and since the same study also found that reading increased school achievement (even more so than studying!), it should worry you too.
So, if we are doing our best to create lifelong readers, what is happening to these young readers when they turn 5 that reduces the time they spend reading? One obvious answer is school. The structure of a typical school day leaves little time for free choice reading. The other thing that happens right about that age is that kids are spending more time engaged in organized activities, like sports, Scouts, and fine arts. All of those are wonderful things! Keeping our kids healthy—intellectually and physically is important. But it is also important to remember that kids need time to sit still and read. Factor that in when your calendar starts to fill up. One family I know keeps a stack of books in the car to read while they wait at the community bus stop. Another family schedules after dinner reading time each night before they’re off to soccer practice. An especially busy mother of three devotes Sunday afternoons to a marathon reading spree.
You’ve made an important decision to build reading into your child’s life. Don’t let busy-family syndrome ruin that foundation. Whether they’re turning five or fifteen, a love for reading is the best gift you can give them.
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
by Margaret Sidney
What books do you credit with making you a lifelong reader?
Schools out! Begin a summer adventure with your child through books. Let your child’s imagination go wild and create a theme for books he would like to read this summer. Make it a challenge for the whole family by offering small rewards for each book read or each story a child has read to him.
If you child likes books related to tractors, planting gardens, or building sand castles, you can use the theme Dig into reading. This theme could also mean digging through your home library and re-reading your favorite books.
When my teen boys were younger, they loved to pretend they were camping out (somewhere in the house). Sometimes this meant throwing a sheet over the Living room table and pretending they were in a cave. For them, pitching a tent meant rearranging furniture to create the effect of being at a campground.
Our bonfire time consisted of sitting next to our sleeping bags in the middle of the floor and eating microwave popcorn. Of course there was a sharing of stories by flashlight.
I recently came across a fun idea recently, related to camps. The idea was to have a stuffed animal camp out. Since my boys are too old for this type of camp out, I challenged them to read a book about campouts or going to camp.
The book I selected to read was Ivy & Bean Make the Rules by Annie Barrows. Bean’s older sister gets to go to camp, but Bean is not old enough. Bean doesn’t really want to go to camp, but she comes up with a plan to create a camp of her own. With the help of her friend Ivy, rules are developed, a tent is made (using old curtains), and kids invited to join in.
One of the rules the girls develop is, “You can only have as much fun as you are willing to get hurt.” The girls are clever at finding ways to make their camp work. One of my favorite things about the book are the activities at the end.
Information is listed that tells you how to make your own camp; it lists what to do on day one through four. For example day one list says – pick a counselor, pick a name, make a tent, etc. There is also a word find and crossword puzzle that the reader can complete.
If your child enjoys solving mysteries, Nate the great by Marjorie Weisman Sharmat was a book. Nate the great is a youth detective who says he works alone. And he loves pancakes. One of his cases involved helping a friend find a lost picture. He asked questions, followed clues and satisfactorily solved the case.
At the end of the book there is a recipe for Nate’s Pancakes, directions for making cat crayons (melting old crayons) and Detective Talk (explains words that detectives use). Nate the great is a series that has many books from which to choose.
Do you have a book suggestion to jumpstart summer reading? Dig in and leave your suggestion.
Spring is in the air (almost) and it’s National Poetry Month. What will you do to celebrate April as National Poetry Month?
When my son was in the seventh grade his Language Arts teacher transformed their classroom into a poetry café. Parents were invited to the gala. As I entered the room I was immediately immersed in the atmosphere.
The classroom was illuminated with a small table lamp at the front of the room and faux candles on the tables. Thump thump… thump thump, was the sound of the bongos as one student read his poetry. At the end of each spoken word fingers snapped as a form of applause.
After visiting the makeshift poetry café, I realized how much fun poetry can be for all ages. Celebrate poetry month by creating your very own family café. Each family member can create an original poem or recite a favorite one. You can even act out a favorite poem.
If you’re searching for a poem to start you on your way, check out the picture book, Almost Late to School And More School Poems, by Carol Diggory Shields.
If you have a pet or have always wanted to have one take a look at few poems about pets. There are a variety of pet poems in the picture book, Who Swallowed Harold? And other poems about pets by Susan Pearson.
As a part of your poetry café, your child may enjoy creating his own I Spy riddles as a form of poetry. Your riddles can even be published online. Learn to write I Spy riddles with Jean Marzollo by clicking here. If you’re looking for funny poems check out Giggle Poetry.
You have the entire month of April to discover your creativity with poetry. Hang an open sign on your door and welcome the family into your poetry café. Do you have a favorite poem or book about poetry?
by Angela Verges
March is reading month and its Dr. Seuss’s birthday. This is a time of year that many libraries and schools create a celebration around the man of lyrical language, Dr. Seuss. Born on March 2, 1904, Dr. Seuss books have entertained and enriched many generations.
This year for Dr. Seuss’s birthday, I challenged by sons to select and read a Dr. Seuss book that relates to them in some way. Together we found Dr. Seuss books that we had never read before. I have labeled our reading challenge as an appointment with the doctor.
My fourteen-year-old son chose the book, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! In this early reader, Marvin is encouraged to “Go”, whether it is by skates or skis he is asked to just go…Please! Although my son is past the picture book stage, he felt this book reminded him of me asking, no demanding, that he go and clean his room.
In the story, Marvin looked like a lovable character who got into mischief at every turn. He was asked to “go” and each time he was given ideas for a grand exit – by balloon, broomstick or even a Bumble-Boat.
My seventeen-year-old son thought it was quite amusing that he had to read a “kiddie” book. However, he was able to come up with a fitting picture book selection, If I Ran the Zoo. My son liked this book because he felt that our house is sometimes like a zoo. I’m sure he meant it is a home filled with excitement and fun (wink).
In the book, If I Ran the Zoo, the character, Gerald McGrew told how he would run the zoo. He would open every cage, unlock every pen, let the animals out and start over again. His animals wouldn’t have just four feet. They would have ten, wouldn’t that be neat.
The story I chose to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s writings was, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? I like the title of this particular book. For me the book taught a lesson of how to appreciate who you are.
After reading our selection of Dr. Seuss books, our celebration was not complete without a meal of green eggs and ham and a side of toast. My boys did not eat much of their green eggs, but they had fun creating them.
If you have young children, why not add a craft project to your celebration?
Make a Cat-in-the-Hat, hat craft. If an edible project is more appealing, create a snack based on the book One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. It’s as simple as making blueberry Jell-O and dipping in Swedish Fish candies.
Do you have a favorite Dr. Seuss book? What will you read to celebrate March as reading month? Make your selection and celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday the entire month.
by Katherine Higgs-Coulthard
My daughters were supposed to be brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed. Instead, they were ransacking the bookshelf. The youngest, Hannah, cried while Laura murmured words of comfort. As I approached the doorway, the words “She won’t forget. It’s a tradition” stopped me in my tracks.
Although the “she” must mean me, I could not imagine what tradition Laura expected me to remember.
I silently cursed Laura’s second-grade teacher. Traditions were a big focus of her family heritage unit each year. With two older children, it was a project I had come to dread. Many families could trace their lineage back to Germany or Sweden, Japan or Africa. Their children made cute little cutouts, decked out in cultural regalia. Presentations involved tea ceremonies and recipes for Wiener schnitzel.
My ancestors had not kept track of lineage. And, as for tradition . . . well, did watching football and eating turkey on Thanksgiving count?
Luckily, my husband’s family is English and Irish. They have whole books on their family history. So far, our children always survived the heritage unit, even if their family trees were a bit lopsided.
Laura’s comment about traditions must have meant the cursed unit was upon us. What tradition could be relevant at 8:30 on a school night? The beginning of February didn’t exactly call for Easter eggs or a candlelit Mass. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday. Sparklers were reserved for July; costumes for October. I still had a few weeks until Valentine’s Day.
By the time I entered Hannah’s room, the girls were cuddled together in bed. They scooted over to make room for me. Hannah’s gap-toothed grin accentuated the air of expectation. “Ready, Momma?” Laura asked.
Just as I was about to break down and admit that I apparently had forgotten some vital family tradition, Katie ran in and plopped a book on my lap: “The Real Story of the Tooth Fairy.” In her other hand she held a lace-pocketed pillow. “You can use mine, Hannah. Mommy’s still working on yours.” She gave a grown-up wink, indicating she knew that I hadn’t even bought the fabric yet.
After tucking Hannah’s tooth into its little pink pocket, Katie snuggled in with us. I gave her a special hug.
At 14, she is already aware of something I hadn’t realized: Tradition is not always spelled with a capital T. It’s the little things, quirky family rituals, that mean the most — not just to children, but to us all.
The next day, I brought up the subject over breakfast, asking the children what other traditions we had.
They all shouted ideas at once.
Hannah: “Catching snowflakes on our tongues.”
Katie: “Family game night.”
Laura: “Birthday candles in our Pop-Tarts.” (Okay, so this is not the most healthy of traditions.)
“Dad’s haunted trail.” This from our teenage son, Chris.
The list grew and grew. Christmas stories with Dad, gingerbread with Grandma, Frisbee golf with Uncle Jerry. Snow cream and snowball fights with one grandpa, putt-putt with the other.
As they named all of the ways our family stayed close, I realized many of the traditions had been initiated not by me or my husband, but by one of the children.
It was Katie who suggested last Thanksgiving that we create small gift boxes out of wood for each family member. In them we put little notes praising each other for our contributions to the family.
In kindergarten our son, Chris, told us about St. Nicholas. If it weren’t for his enthusiasm, we would never have known to leave our shoes on the stairwell each Dec. 6, so St. Nick could fill them with treats.
Laura’s tradition involves planting a tree each Arbor Day. That, and sneaking Nana’s cream wafers faster than they come out of the oven.
Hannah, young as she is, has already influenced our family to put “kissy lips” on all the mirrors every Valentine’s Day.
If tradition is the glue that binds families, we’ve concocted our own adhesive out of flour and water, so that we are the sum of the little moments we create together. And while Tooth Fairy pillows and kissy lips may not be as exotic as tea ceremonies and Wiener schnitzel, they define our family better than any hand-me-down ritual.
Ask your children what your family’s traditions are? Surprised by their answers?
By Angela Verges
Do you remember the little Valentine conversation candies? They had messages such as – I Love You, Be Mine and Kiss Me. This Valentine’s Day you can have fun messages such as those found on candy hearts.
Below are 7 fun activities to try with your family. Of course reading can be incorporated into each activity.
1. Heart shaped notes – help your child cut out heart shapes and write messages on them. He could hide a note the day before Valentine’s Day for a sibling or parent to find. A lunch box is one location for a hidden note.
2. Family scavenger hunt – hide heart shaped notes with clues, around the house. Have the final note lead to a special Valentine treat.
3. Read a Valentine story – read a story and a scene from the story (use an animated voice).
4. Make Valentine Play dough – make a batch of white dough and add food coloring or liquid watercolors of your choosing. Click here for a play dough recipe. Don’t forget the heart shaped cookie cutters.
5. Musical Hearts – create a game of musical hearts by cutting heart shapes; number each heart, then place them in a circle on the floor. Write a set of numbers on smaller heart shapes (equal to the number of hearts on your circle. Start the music playing, then stop it at random intervals. Use the smaller hearts with numbers to call a number at random when the music stops. The number called is the winner.
6. Conversation hearts craft – glue conversation hearts to a heart shaped piece of paper. Glue them in a heart shape or create some other design.
7. Valentine message in a bottle – decorate a clear plastic bottle with peel off valentine shapes. Help your child write a message to roll up and slip into the bottle. Tie a ribbon around the neck of the bottle.
After your activities are complete, sit down and enjoy a good Valentine’s Day book. If you’ve read, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly, you must read There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Rose by Lucille Colandro.
The old lady not only swallowed a rose, but some lace, glitter, candy and other stuff. As you near the end of the story you discover why she swallowed the rose and how everything fits together.
Another picture book that I had fun reading was Ruby Valentine Saves the Day by Laurie Friedman. Colorful pictures and clever rhyme brought this story to life.
Do you have a favorite Valentine’s Day story or activity?
Remember the trapped-in-a-snow-globe feeling of watching huge snowflakes float outside your window as you drifted off to sleep? And waking with the anticipation of seeing your school’s name scroll across the screen, officially making the day a snow day? In my house, snow days are more than a day off school. They are a magical gift.
Of all the ways to spend those snow-kissed days, here’s our family’s top ten choices:
* Make snow cream
Grandpa’s snow cream recipe
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 to 6 cups clean, freshly fallen snow
In a large bowl combine half and half, vanilla extract and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes.
Stir in snow, a cup at a time, until ice cream forms.
* Mix up homemade hot chocolate
Nana’s homemade hot chocolate recipe
1 lb powdered sugar
8 cups powdered milk
1 container (30 ounces) Nesquick
16 ounces powdered coffee creamer
Mix all ingredients in large container. When ready to make hot chocolate, add 2 heaping tablespoons of mix to warm milk. (Don’t forget the marshmallows!)
* Look for animal tracks in the snow (and make our own)
* Make snow angels and snowpeople
* Build a snowfort and spray paint it with colored water in squirt bottles (use food color)
* Make fairy castles by packing snow into gelatin and cake molds & decorate with nature
* Snow Marbles
In an effort to give our older son something to aim at besides his three little sisters, we invented this winter version of marbles. Use a stick to draw a circle in the snow, then take turns tossing snowballs into the circle. Extra points if you can hit your opponent’s snowball.
* Blow bubbles and watch them freeze
* Watch Frosty the Snowman (okay, so this one is a sanity break for Mom)
* And of course… read snow-related books. Our favorites are below.