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.
The count down to the New Year is done, now what? It’s time for New Year’s Resolutions and keeping warm inside with a good book. Have you talked to the kids about setting goals or creating New Year’s Resolutions? I read an article recently that said that around first grade is a good time to introduce children to the idea of resolutions.
My boys are teens now so they have a pretty good idea about creating goals and resolutions. However on occasion, I like to give them a few suggestions of my own. Here are a few I would put on their list:
• Complete school assignments AND turn them in on time.
• Complete chores at least once a week without being asked.
• Humor mom sometimes and say, “I’ll be glad to do that for you.”
If you have a tween at home check out Amelia’s Must Keep Resolutions for the Best New Year Ever! By Marissa Moss. The book is set up along the lines of a graphic novel as Amelia lists her resolutions and tells how she plans to keep them.
Amelia resolves to make her 6th grade year of school better with easy steps to less stress. She comes up with fun resolutions such as:
• Never write a boring book report again.
• Never wear an itchy turtleneck when giving an oral report.
• Try to do homework right after school so she won’t have to get up the next morning to do it.This book has a suggested reading age of 10-13 years and is very easy to follow. The author does a good job relating the scenarios to real life
If you have a younger child, Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution, by Pat Miller is a picture book worth reading. The story opens with Squirrel pinning up her “Nut-of-the Month” calendar in preparation of the New Year.
When Squirrel hears on the radio that January first is a great time to make a resolution, she doesn’t know what to do. She wonders whether making a resolution is like making a snack. As Squirrel visits her friends she learns more about resolutions and what each of her friends have resolved to do.
Squirrel’s friends try to help her create a resolution by telling her to think of a way to improve herself or to help others. Finally, after having lunch with friends, Squirrel made her very first resolution.
If you haven’t read Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution yet, you can have it read to you by clicking the YouTube video below.
YouTube Video Credit: babbajessica
If you’re looking for fun ways to introduce New Year’s resolutions to your child, how about throwing a resolution party? As a part of your party you could create resolutions as a family. Cut a piece of construction paper into the shape of a party hat and have your child write his resolution on the cut-out. Post the art work on the fridge with a magnet.
For activities and other resources on creating resolutions check out the Lakeshore Learning website by clicking here.
What do you plan to do differently this year?
After seeing the chaos of Black Friday reflected in the news, I pulled my children close and reminded them that we don’t have to be like that. My oldest (who just turned eighteen) said, “Isn’t it ironic that the day after we give thanks, we trample people to death to get a better deal on something we probably could have afforded anyway?”
But it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of Christmas—stores start piping in the music shortly after Halloween. This year a few stores snuck Christmas ornaments on shelves next to cornucopias and Indian corn. I bet they sold more than a couple, too, because Christmas is like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving—yes, you just stuffed yourself and probably should wait, but why? There’s the pie right there…
But there is a certain joy in waiting.
Of quieting your heart in expectation of what is to come.
To me, that’s what the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is, quiet expectation. Expectation reflected in the manger scene by our front door—Mary and Joseph near an empty cradle, waiting.
That expectation is also reflected by the pile of books under our Christmas tree. It waits for dinner to be done, dishes to be cleared, hot cocoa to be marshmallowed, and the fire to be crackling. Then the children gather around Daddy and he reads one story each night between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
My favorites are the calm, quiet stories. Here are a few on the top of the pile:
If you haven’t yet discovered Deborah Underwood, you’re in for a treat.
Her characters are gentle natured woodland animals getting ready for Christmas, but without the hustle and bustle of other books.
Check out the book trailer below!
Gorgeously illustrated story about a boy hearing the Christmas story for the first time.
Another sweet book. A little tree wishes to be part of something—anything—and winds up being part of something he never could have imagined.
How about you? Which Christmas books make your family’s must-read list?
‘Tis the season to be jolly. The holiday season can create an atmosphere of cheer, sharing and togetherness. One of the things my family likes to do during the holiday is watch movies together or venture out to the movie theater. Of course we can’t go through the season without picking up a book.
As my sons and I were discussing which movie we wanted to see at the movie theater, the conversation spiraled in a new direction.
“If we go to the movies, you know we’ll have to buy nachos or a pretzel,” one son said.
“Yeah, and all of that salt and butter will make us thirsty and we will need a pop,” said the other son.
Our conversation had a familiar tone. It reminded me of a book by one of my favorite children’s authors, If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, by Laura Numeroff. You may be familiar with the story; when mouse goes to the movies, he wants popcorn. Then he wants to string the popcorn. After that, he wants to hang the popcorn on a Christmas tree. And the list goes on.
I enjoyed pulling this book out and reintroducing it to my teen boys. They got a chuckle out of how much the story resembled them.
Laura Numeroff’s lovable mouse has lots of character. He practically dances through the pages with his requests and antics. When I shared this story with a group of children at an afterschool program, they wanted more.
Instead of reading the book over and over and over again, we worked on a couple of projects related to the story. Below are five activity ideas that relate to If You take a Mouse to the Movies.
• Make popcorn balls and shape them into mice.
• String popcorn and hang it on a Christmas tree.
• Make a mouse shaped ornament and decorate it with glitter, like the mouse in the story.
• Draw a container for popcorn on construction paper, then glue real popcorn to it.
• Create math problems for your child – for example… If mouse bought five drinks at the movies, how many of his friends could have their own drink?
Have you ever taken a mouse to the movies or maybe even a child? They’ll want more.
Do you have a favorite Holiday story that resembles your child or the child in you?
by Wendy Lawrence
Thanksgiving is coming up and I have the bestest ever picture book for that! I just checked it out of the library and now plan to buy a copy. I’m excited to have a great Thanksgiving story to share with my children; one that combines history with a gripping story, one that teaches about women’s rights without preaching, and one that will help add a whole helping of meaning to our Thanksgiving table. This is a fun story that will be enjoyed by the little ones but with enough history and real issues to be liked by kids much older than the usual picture book audience. Heck, I liked it so much I read it twice right away.
Sarah Gives Thanks is a true and well-researched story by Mike Allegra. A widow, Sarah works in a hat shop, even though she has a particular disdain for impractical fashion. Even though women didn’t attend college in her time, she gets an education with her older brother’s textbooks from Dartmouth. You get a sense of her personality when she convinces him to help her study on his vacation by saying “I am not going to go away, Horatio. Therefore you might as well do as I ask.” Even though this is the early 1800s when women had few professional options, Sarah publishes a few poems in a magazine and later becomes a widely read author. She and her family are invited to move to Boston so she can become a magazine editor (although she insisted on being called an editress). She quickly becomes an influential figure in America, and her opinions matter.
Throughout all this time, Sarah has been celebrating Thanksgiving, not yet a national holiday, and telling everyone who would listen (which was getting to be a lot of people) that everyone should celebrate it. She wasn’t as concerned with the holiday’s roots as much as she was concerned with the meaning of the holiday–that we all have something to be thankful for–and this is someone who had already lost two husbands. Sarah wrote to president after president. (“I am not going to go away,” Sarah said. “Therefore the president might as well do as I ask.”) but Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan all ignore her. It wasn’t until Lincoln got her letter in the middle of the Civil War that he agreed that Thanksgiving was exactly what the nation needed.
It’s a phenomenal story that is told much better than my short synopsis and with really great illustrations that bring the characters to life. An author’s note with more information about this amazing woman is included at the end. I love that this is less about the Native Americans and the Pilgrims and more about being thankful, which, given the history of those two groups after their big feast, I think is the message most families want to pass along today. Now when I make my own Thanksgiving about saying our thanks, I know I’m not even rewriting history–I’m just following in the footsteps of the great woman who made this holiday official!
I hope this book makes its way onto your tables and its message–about being who you can be despite prejudices and being thankful despite heavy loss–reaches your children’s hearts and minds. It’s a good one.