children · Education · kids · parenting

Kids’ Books

Reading aloud with 2 year old Asher on my lap, taken by 4 year old Aiden, 2008

This is a little bit off topic from my norm here, but an old English major can only go so long without writing about books. Isn’t there a saying~ “You can graduate the English major from school but you can’t take the schooling out of the English major”….or something along those lines. My boys have been reading their own books, often in bed but also on lazy afternoons and rainy Saturdays for years now, but I have continued to also read them bedtime stories which means finding a book they both want to hear. This isn’t actually too hard since they are less than two years apart and share many interests but still takes some hunting. Plus we also listen to books in the car, sometimes the same one as we are reading aloud but usually not, so we have been exposed to quite a lot of children’s literature. My oldest the other day asked me what had been my favorite book so far in our reading aloud category and it got me thinking of all the amazing stories out there that really have been a pleasure to share with my little guys, so I thought I’d compile a list here of some of those favorites to share with anyone looking for ideas for their own family or classrooms.

These aren’t in any particular order other than what my memory coughs up, and I’m going to add links to amazon just for convenience sake. We got most of these from our local library ourselves.:

1. Nurk by Ursula Vernon This book is about a shrew (!) who goes on an adventure.  The suspense, relationships, and vocabulary are all pitch perfect. He grows in believable ways through understandable adversities that aren’t kid-ified. Vernon also wrote the Dragonbreath series which I didn’t read but it was the first series that really captured my youngest’s fancy and made him into a real reader on his own time. Ages 5-9

2. Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr  It seriously takes an exceptional book to keep my sons’ interests if the main character is a girl. They loved this book where this young girl is on an island all by herself and shows a degree of intelligence and self-reliance that is not often seen in this age of helicopter parenting. There is also a bit of animal communication which is always appealing to at least my own kids, and the author keeps the child-like perspective in mind the whole time without ever being condescending, silly, or forced. Well done. Best guess~ 6-9 year olds.

3. Stuart Little by E.B. White How did I get through childhood without reading this one? My kids tell me all the time that they aren’t “in” to classics but both loved this one. It’s a classic for a reason. And ageless.

4. Circle of Doom by Tim Kennemore Despite the dark sounding title, this is a laugh-out-loud book, especially if you have a big family, are from a big family, or have a connection to a big family. The hilarity revolves around the family dynamics of the three siblings who each think they are outwitting the others. The parents make pretty funny appearances as well. Kennemore has done a fabulous job taking archetypal family members that anyone can recognize and making them seriously funny. 7-13~ really easy read but there are a couple of bad words (like the ‘d’ word) so when reading aloud I just changed them. I feel like I should clarify, when I say “easy read” that doesn’t account for the fact that a lot of the hilarity is nuanced and I actually laughed more than my kids did because of that aspect, so maybe the age recommendation should actually be 7-39.

5. The Silverwing Trilogy by Kenneth Oppel We actually listened to the first book of this in our car (on CD) and now my boys are reading the second book themselves. This is told from the point of view of a silverwing bat and the drama that he and his friends and family go through is epic, exciting, sometimes gruesome and other times beautiful. There are also lessons in religious fanaticism layered in and several mythologies made up entirely by Oppel. He is an extremely creative author and this trilogy is an award winner. We’ve read two other books by him, The Boundless and Airborn, which my sons liked though I think they are better read by a slightly older reader (12+) due to the romantic relationships and the fact that Oppel makes his bad guys excruciatingly evil. He does this in Silverwing too, but somehow the evil bats are not quite as hard to take as the evil people. Ages 8-12.

6. Of course the crème de la crème is Harry Potter. We have read these aloud, listened to them in the car, my oldest has read and reread the books 2-4 times each and my youngest has read them at least once. Oh yes, and watched the movies. J.K. Rowling is brilliant. Enough said. Ageless.

Some other books worth mentioning:

My youngest adored My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. I didn’t read it so can’t say why, but it is an award winner with a lot of great reviews.

He also loved Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans, but again, I didn’t read it so cannot say why it was so captivating.

He is also a fan of the Dragons of Wayward Crescent series by Chris D’Lacey. These are unique in that there are smaller chapter books for the starter readers, and also bigger books for the more advanced. I did read one or two of these aloud and found them charmingly suspenseful, and perfectly suited to a child’s imagination. Ages 6-12, depending on the book.

Both my boys (and therefore I have too) have listened to all of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jacksons and Heroes stories in the car on CD. They have passed the time on many long car trips but I have to say my sons have enjoyed them more than I have. Even they will point out similarities to Harry Potter story lines though, not that he copied but if you are writing after Rowling, you might want to make an effort to keep it as different as possible when you have two boys and a girl going on missions and the main character is a reluctant hero who had no idea of his special-ness up until book one.

For lighter reads, both my boys like the Aldo Zelnick series by Karla Oceanak. These seem to have a similar reading experience as Wimpy Kid with a more likeable main character. Ages 7-12

I will probably keep adding to this list but I will stop for now. OK, just two more~ we just started the Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng and it alternates between funny and suspenseful in an ever delightful way. And if my sons were writing this post they would include Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil. This alternates between two narrators, a boy and a cat. As I said, my boys would recommend it, not sure it’s in my top 10, well yes I am sure and it isn’t. But it’s all about keeping the kids interested in reading, right?

 

 

 

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children · Education · kids · parenting

Schools and STEM

Chicken huggersIf you have a child in school these days then you surely have heard of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math.) It’s the big thing right now~ there are STEM schools,  STEM measurements, and people compare the STEM-ness of schools when making decisions about where their child will go. Personally, I’m wondering where creativity fits into science, technology, engineering, and math. It seems to me innovation is tied to creativity and we need to foster that in our children just as much as the other things. Not only that, but creativity gives people the space to appreciate art, music, literature, and all the things that still exist beyond our screens. Our kids will be proficient in computers, that’s a given, but do we really want to tie our futures so inseparably with modern technology? Has there really been nothing of use in the world up until the computer chip was invented? What about the natural world? Science seems centered on dissecting it, but what about giving kids the chance to appreciate it? Breathe it. Realize they live in it along with billions of other beings and need to think about that fact. An example of what I’m talking about is the fact our school district does not have art teachers. There are volunteer parents that go in and teach art to classes at most once per month, but often a lot less. Why are we teaching these kids that art in not that important? They have music and PE and library at least once per week, but art for some reason is not valued enough to have at least a weekly class with a trained teacher. This just blows my mind. Kids get so much out of art class and I’m not just referring to the kids who are gifted in it. When I go in and help with art lessons I’m always struck by the highly intellectual students who are astounded they can make something aesthetically pleasing with their own hands, and the hyper-active students who can focus on something that is truly their own, and the quiet students who love being able to work on something as an individual and not be overwhelmed with the constant group activities that are also so vogue in modern education. It gives students a place to pause and consider what art means to them, to recognize every single one of them has some creativity and how good it feels to express it, and to understand it is valuable to work on something purely for aesthetic reasons. These are just a few of things that I see falling out of schools in favor of STEM, and I’d like to propose a post-STEM environment focused on Creativity and Nature. Computers will be integrated in their lives more and more with textbooks changing into tablets, research done on Google, Kindergarteners giving PowerPoint presentations~ that’s all part of the modern world and I’m not trying to stop it, there just needs to be some focus on what goes on outside of a screen and perhaps inside of a head. Of course, I have to bring up the Edible Schoolyard Project as I so often do because it embraces nature and creativity both in such a beautiful balance, and in an increasingly teched-out world kids need to be reminded of the importance of these things. Isn’t education about expanding the mind after all…? It certainly can’t just be about learning how to use a single tool. Our kids are brighter than that and they deserve more.

children · ecology · Education · gardening · health · kids · parenting

Schools a Healthy Place?

I had a strange experience last week when I went to my youngest son’s music class presentation. It was beyond cute of course, with all the second graders sounding angelic although I know they are often quite a devilish group as I’ve seen them enough in other settings. But sitting in the metal folding chairs as they sat on the floor or walked around singing, something else struck me besides the sweetness of it all~ when I looked at them each individually, as in really looked at them, they mostly looked kind of…sickly. Granted it was the end of the day and also the end of the week so they had reason to be tired, and maybe the lighting is not the best in their brand new school, but it seemed odd to me that they could all look so sluggish and lacking vibrancy considering their youth. My own son’s cheeks were flared up with the pink that signifies something is bothering him allergy-wise, either the carpet or something he ate, or who knows what, but that is what made me start looking at the other kids. There was one girl who looked completely healthy, alert, and engaged and I happen to know that this girl always looks that way or at least she does at library time where I help out and also field trips and parties, before and after school. She is just that kind of girl who notices everything and is part of everything and probably questions her teachers and parents ad nauseam. She was seriously the only one. The other kids were a mixture of eyes with dark circles, half closed eyes, wandering eyes and hands, bad skin, rashes, confused and disengaged looks, and tired faces and bodies. It made me wonder about kids, schools, and health. Is the modern school a healthy place for our students? Do they get enough outdoor time? Are they eating good food? Are we doing our best to help them learn? I don’t know, it just bothered me to see a bunch of second graders that just didn’t look vibrant and vivacious. They are too young not to be! The edible schoolyard project is one place to look for answers though my kids’ school has put me off for two years now when I’ve brought up planting a garden there. The students would get so much out of it, not the least of which would be a bit more good health. One bright eyed bushy tailed student out of 21 is not enough.

Education · gardening · kids

Give a person a tomato and he eats for a day…

Boys walkingThe other day my two sons and I were on a walk and as usual, my older son was talking while the younger one and I quietly listened. The truth is, I don’t always listen as well as I should because one can only take in so much information about video games, YouTube, and unfamiliar book characters, but on that day he said something that caught my attention. He asked, “Have you ever heard that saying: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a…” “Lifetime” I filled in for him. Yes, I’d heard it of course, and was delighted we could have a real conversation talking about what that saying actually means. It got me thinking about school gardens, and how that’s exactly why they are so important~ not only do they teach kids about growing food. (Chances are they are not going to be in a situation that requires them to grow their own food or they’ll starve, but then again you never can be sure.) But more importantly, it teaches them where food comes from, what it should taste like, and to develop a positive relationship with food as it grows and helps them grow. Once you taste a homegrown tomato it’s really hard to eat something that tastes like what most grocery stores sell. So, I think we could actually modify the original saying a bit more to say: Give a person a tomato and he eats for a day, teach him to grow a tomato and he eats well for a lifetime. My favorite site on this subject is The Edible Schoolyard Project. Check it out when you are in the mood for a little inspiration. EdibleSchoolyard

Education · kids

Healthy Kids Move

It’s yet another responsibility a parent has~ making sure his/her children get exercise. It DSCN1563[1]isn’t always easy in the winter when even I take one look outside and dive for the nearest blanket. During the summer months it is completely normal for my two sons to play all day, to go from a park to a pool to another park and September always leaves me cringing at the thought of those two active boys suddenly having to sit for 6.5 hours a day with just short little recesses to get outside. Then as slowly as the leaves turn colors the sedentary lifestyle seeps into their growing bones and it becomes the norm, making movement a strange and rare occurrence that results in having to ‘rest’. I hate it. And just for the record I also hate the hours of homework after school when kids should be running around, or pursuing other passions like music, art, karate, etc. Anyway, I found a tool that helps motivate the kids to move and I like it so much I just have to share. There might be other brands out there, but what I found at our local REI was a kid friendly pedometer made by geopalz. The pedometers come in all different kinds of cute designs and can be worn on shoes or hips or even held in hand, though that is not really recommended. (Your arm movements are much more erratic compared to legs/feet.) The kids get to login into their personal statistics on the geopalz website and enter in their daily steps to watch their numbers add up and earn points for the ‘arcade’ and also points to earn real things, such as frisbees or balls. Such a fantastic idea! Both the website and the pedometer seem to be fairly new and have a kink or two that still need working out, but the fact my youngest and most lay-around-the-house son said, “I’m going to wear this all the time and get more steps!” is enough to make the purchase worth it. They have really enjoyed them so far and I have enjoyed being able to say, “Let’s walk to (wherever) and you can rack up some steps” and hearing “Yay!” instead of “No way!” Great idea and seems to be a great company.

Education

Reading

A pic of a reading man
A pic of a reading man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most things I’ve done as a parent I look back on and think I could have done better. That’s a depressing statement, but I believe if most parents are honest, they would say the same thing, and I think this because people refer to their first born as the trial and error kid, and they “do better” with the next ones. You can’t help but to learn as you go, so that certainly makes sense and really anyone who doesn’t think they could do better isn’t striving to be better, and I don’t have much patience for those types. There’s a buddhist saying that I’ll massacre here: A wise person sees wisdom everywhere, an ignorant person sees ignorance. The actual quote is far more eloquent, but my brain only seems to memorize iambic meter. Anyway, the one thing I can honestly and unabashedly say I did right from the get-go as a mother is to make my kids readers. Most young children love books, but my oldest did not. As an infant he only liked tearing catalogs and magazines and refused to sit through the simplest of books. The pictures were far less interesting than real life to him and it truly bothered me that he was not interested in books. Soon after his first birthday I managed to get his interest with books about vehicles, but not the same books over and over again as most young ones do, so I started looking through our King County library system and putting on hold every child’s book with trucks, cars, construction, or fire trucks in the keyword search. Once I had gone through all of those (and I do mean ALL of them) I expanded the search words to tools, workers, planes, etc. That little toddler started to get hooked. Pretty soon I was searching books about dogs, space, robots, and more, and he was interested in it all. A reader was in the making. That was not the end of our struggles though as he was not the type to immediately except the alphabet nor did the typical teaching in preschool or kindergarten suit him, so I took him to an extra pre-reading class that had a lot of music and movement attached to the letters and that is where he finally learned the alphabet. Reading did not spontaneously happen though, and we had many arguments over reading through the end of first grade. While he still insisted on reading simple books I started getting chapter books on CD for driving in the car. It worked. They both love hearing stories in the car, it keeps them focused on something besides each other, and I appreciate having a book read aloud to them that I don’t have to do because my throat does not allow me to read out loud very long. I sometimes have to pause books and explain things, which is a wonderful way to increase their vocabulary and comprehension skills. By the end of first grade my oldest was quite a good reader and his first chapter books were to reread the books we had listened to in the car, which happened to be the Magic Treehouse series. Now he is in third grade and absolutely loves to read. It’s his favorite subject in school, tied with PE, and he often reads one to two hours a night, purely out of the sheer joy of it. My younger son is on the same path though his way was less bumpy so seemed less dramatic. He did have a little trouble with the way reading is taught in schools too though and I had to teach him myself, which luckily I had done before in schools so I really do count myself very fortunate. It seems like the schools are missing a step between learning letters and actual reading but I guess it clicks for most at some point.