Get Your Child to Play More Games, Solve More Puzzles, and Exercise Creativity

LauraFamily Fun, Homeschooling, Motherhood0 Comments

Don’t you just love when your child is totally absorbed in creating, puzzling, or playing? I do!

We have a closet full of incredible games and toys – solitaire marbles, colored blocks, a Buddha board, dominoes, chess – but with a baby crawling around, I haven’t known what to do with all of those tiny pieces and fragile items.

So, I shut them all up in a closet.

All of our beautiful games and learning toys were just sitting in a closet. Ignored. Sad. Lonely.

Last year, I was brainstorming a way to engage my older children in some of the hidden gems in our closet and I love what we discovered. I’ve just gotta tell you all about it.

This strategy rocks. It’s super-simple. Totally do-able. And has engaged my kiddos in hours of creative play. And the really nice thing is that the games no longer feel so dejected.

I call it… The One Thing on A High Table.

Yep, that’s right. Every few weeks, I place a different thing on the high black table that stands right in the middle of our everyday living.

None of the babies can reach the small pieces and the older children (and adults and all of our visitors) are immediately drawn into the fun. If it’s a game, they may play it the traditional way, but I’ve found that by leaving it out for two weeks or so, each child tinkers around with the pieces, creating designs, new games, slow-motion videos… I’m always amazed by what I discover at the high table.

The possibilities are endless…

Chess

Marble Solitaire

Colorful blocks

Dominoes

The Super Sorting Pie

Jenga

Shut the Box

Quirkle

Blokus  

Even a basket of buttons or big, smooth stones beckons to a child, “Come and create a while.

The rules are simple: it all stays on the table.

The magic wand is in your hand. Here’s the key to keeping the fun alive: switch out the game before your child is tired of it and don’t ask for input. Just “let the new thing appear”. As they walk by the table, they’ll glimpse something new and interesting out of the corner of their eye, it will call their name, and they’ll be pulled into the wonder.

The bonus: Our table happens to be right inside our front door. It’s a great location. When guests arrive, they jump right in, painting on the Buddha board, or trying their hand at Shut the Box. If you have the space for something like this, try it out! It’s yard sale season, keep your eye open for a high table of your own. 🙂

Potty Training in 3 Simple Quotations

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood, Toddlers4 Comments

A friend recently asked me to share all of my potty training insights. To be honest, I don’t have much to share. Potty training isn’t my forte.

Though I rejoice that 6 out of the 7 people in our family are potty trained, I’m not quite sure how it all came about. Each time, we tried the 3-Day Thing, and yet…

One of our kiddos took longer than others.

One was waaaay too distracted.

One was less interested.

One – one amazing child of ours – figured it all out within 24 hours of training and said, “I’m potty-trained, Mom.” Bam. Done.

Another one relapsed after 2 years of consistency.

SO, in my experience there is no pattern or formula for fail-safe, accident-free, blissful potty training.

I do, however, have 3 cosmos-shaking quotations about potty-training that I’m willing to share with you.

1. “Treat your child the way you’ll want to be treated when you’re old and they help YOU go to the potty.”

This is the golden rule of potty training.

A mother of 7 told me this one. I’m amazed that the concept has shaped how I think about the servant-part of parenting. When I consider that I’m modeling the way I’d like them to treat me, I’m kinder and much more patient, that’s for sure.

2. “There’s no turning back now, Mom.”

We aim for the focused 3-day Potty Training Thing, putting the child on the potty every 15- 20 minutes.

In the past, we’d transition to pull-ups. But when we were about to train our third child, we decided to go right to underwear instead of transitioning with pull-ups. That day, a good friend and experienced dad stopped by and heard about our Project of the Day. He said, “There’s no turning back now, Mom. Whatever you do, don’t go back to diapers or pull-ups.”

We took his advice and I’m glad we did. It required consistency and dogged determination, but the process seemed to go much more smoothly. Of course, there were plenty of accidents that I couldn’t bear to clean up (you know the kind) so, I threw some underwear away. We’ve shopped around for inexpensive packs of underwear. At the end of the day, we’ve thrown away and spent far less than if we had transitioned to pull-ups or gone back-and-forth.

3. “I count on my children having accidents until they are 4 or 5 years old.”

After a few years of frustration over occasional accidents – even 2 or 3 years after a child being potty-trained – a friend shrugged her shoulders and told me that she counts on her kids having accidents even when they are 4 or 5 years old. I breathed a sigh of relief to learn that I’m not alone! She told me that she keeps a change of clothes in the car and doesn’t make a big deal about it when it happens. Now I do that, too.

This mentality was a game changer for me.

Being prepared for accidents helps me to extend grace to my child as well as to myself. We’re not shocked. We’re not angry. We just clean it up. No big deal.

I haven’t tracked the data scientifically or anything, but I’m certain that my kids have far fewer accidents now that I’m prepared and relaxed. Wonders!

So, there you have it, all I know about potty training in 3 simple quotes: “don’t turn back”, “prepare for accidents”, and “treat your child with dignity”.

What about you? What do you know about potty training?

The Playful Pioneers Review: 3 First Impressions

LauraBooks, Homeschooling

I first heard of Jennifer Pepito’s curriculum on The Homeschool Snapshots podcast.

I love her philosophy about the preschool years and became interested in her “Peaceful Preschool” curriculum. While I was checking that out, I discovered her newest  curriculum, “The Playful Pioneers“, which provides a multi-sensory approach to the first 5 books in The Little House on the Prairie series for early-elementary students.

I wanted to make sure I got this post out to you asap because she is offering 20% off either curriculum through June with the discount code “Summer”. You may want to snatch this one up!

Why I Chose The Playful Pioneers for our Children…

Like SO many homeschoolers, I adore The Little House series.

I grew up believing imagining I was Laura Ingalls Wilder – surviving blizzards, teaching bullies, sweeping for hours, and making gallons of nature soup.

Eight years ago, I read the first few books to our oldest daughter. Then two years ago, our second daughter hid away behind one Little House book after another until she emerged from the entire series, smiling and inspired.

Now that our son is entering first grade and our 3-year-old is precocious enough to listen in, I think it’s time to enjoy the series together.

The Playful Pioneers curriculum provides just what we need to map out our reading and dig into the pioneer lifestyle.

I decided to begin the curriculum this summer since it’s targeted toward K – 3rd graders, but my rising 7th and 4th grader begged to be included in the fun. With the flexibility of summer, I want to try it on for size and see how it works best in our home.

I LOVE that it begins with Farmer Boy. This appeals to my 6-year old son right off the bat. I’m so thankful for that! After the first week’s reading, he wanted to run right off and “play Farmer Boy!” (Who could ask for more?)

One of the highlights from Week 1 was making a pink dye from rose petals. With it, we dyed some yarn and white socks. We decided that the color of the socks is best described as, “Well, ew, Farmer Boy Pink?”.

I dunno. What would you call this color??

With two weeks under our belts, here are my first impressions about The Playful Pioneers:

  • It’s well-organized, simple, and easy to follow. 

When you purchase the curriculum, you’ll receive a few downloads: The Student Worksheets, The Book List, The Cookbook, and The Curriculum. I printed it out, punched holes in everything, organized the student worksheets with their corresponding Week #, and put it in a 3-inch binder.

Each week provides a clear one-page overview of every activity, then each day has a more specific description with internet links included for project instructions, etc.

There’s no question about what to do, when. This curriculum provides simple, do-able assignments and projects to enhance each day’s reading. I’m confident that my children are learning so much from the multi-sensory approach of making rose-petal dye and popcorn, listening to music and poetry, and drawing and writing.

  • It’s a thorough curriculum.

Along with your favorite Math and Language Arts curriculum, The Playful Pioneers could be everything else you need for a 30 week school year.

Because we’re starting this in the summer, we’re simply doing the day’s reading while the children work on the copy work/ coloring pages or a related art project. If there’s an additional art or practical skills project, we do that in the afternoon.

In the fall, I’ll be more conscientious to include the Scripture copy work, the additional reading, as well as the science and history elements.

  • It’s hands-on, sensory fun for a wide range of ages and grade levels.

Even though The Playful Pioneers is geared toward K – 3rd grade, my 3-year old and 12-year old daughters are enjoying it just as much as anyone.

For example of how the assignments appeal to a broad range of ages, check out that photo of the horses. The prompt was, “Draw a horse, using p. 141 in Farm Anatomy as a guide”.  My 6-year old and my 6th grader were equally absorbed in the assignment and felt good about their work. You can see how they each naturally applied it to their own ability level.

My older daughters love the copy work and coloring, and are really enjoying the art and practical skills projects. And of course, who wouldn’t enjoy the books themselves? The Little House books are timeless literature for every age.

I’m anticipating that the older girls will want to continue being a part of the fun in the fall. If so, I’ll just shape their curriculum around what we’ll be reading and experiencing at that time. I can keep you posted about that if you’re interested.

My first impression of The Playful Pioneers? Two thumbs up! Excellent quality. Affordable. Do-Able. Meaningful.

Click here to check it out for yourself! And remember… 20% off with the code “Summer”. 🙂

 

Our Plans for a Regular Old Summer Day

LauraAll Posts, Books, Homeschooling

Year-round schooling is my style. I thrive in the sweet terrarium of structure and accomplishment.

My children, on the other hand, need a nice, long break from the monotony thrill of a rigorous academic schedule. Besides, our summer schedule is gladly full of friends, outdoor adventures, vacation, and camps, so it’s not realistic to expect school-work-as-usual.

When we are home, I like to keep a general daily schedule so the kids know what to expect. I’ve discovered that even summer vacation thrives with a little structure, so that everything hums along. The younger they are, the more passionate I am about having them read, write, and reason a bit each day. (Personal history proves that a 3-day weekend – let alone a 3-month vacation – can make a Kindergartner write their 5’s backwards after working so hard to write them correctly. Ack! That hurts. So, we keep things like “5’s” fresh through the summer.)

Here’s our “Regular Ole’ Summer Day” plan.

Play until Breakfast.

8 o’clock: Breakfast

Outdoor chores (Before the sun!)

9ish – 10ish a.m. The Playful Pioneer

We’ve just begun a beautiful and fun curriculum that takes young students through The Little House on the Prairie Books w/ activities, crafts, recipes, coloring, and Copywork. It’s meant for K-3, but my older girls begged to be let in on the fun. I’ll be sharing more about this soon. Stay tuned.

10ish – 11ish a.m. “Snack and Stuff”

We’ll all grab a snack and then… The older girls want to keep up with their math and practice their music or ballet. They’re both writing stories for The Secret Keep Girl Story-Writing Contest, so they use this time to work on that.

Meanwhile, I play with Malachi and Audrey, aiming to help Malachi do some math, reading, and writing as we play. My top 5 ideas: “Toy Store”, “Sunday School,” “Camp,” “Train Station,” and “Restaurant”.

11ish – 12ish p.m. Free time

12ish – 1ish p.m. Lunch/ Free time

1ish – 2ish p.m. Quiet Reading Hour

2ish – 3ish p.m. Read-aloud + an Art Project or a Game

I love this special time just with my older 3. We’ve read so many wonderful books together, painted many watercolors, and played many games. Just yesterday, Malachi and I won a game of Rummikub. 🙂

3ish – 3:30 p.m. Indoor Chores

3:30 – 5 p.m. Free time until dinner

All of that free time is beautiful for children! They can run and play and create! But, I must admit that all of that free time gives me the jitters. I don’t mind a dose of boredom that results in discovery and play, but I do mind boredom that results in complaining, snack-begging, and aimlessness. (Two-sides of the same coin!)

Our kids love to play outside and can spend hours with Playmobil or LEGOS, it’s just a matter of getting them going sometimes.  So for a quick reference, I made a list of fun things they can do and posted it on the fridge. If they need an idea, there it is. The list is full of everything you’d expect: playdoh, dolls, bubbles, clay…

My biggest concern is myself:  I can flat-out wilt under the intensity of unstructured time. To appease myself, I posted a 2nd list on the fridge: a list of “You ACCOMPLISHED something!” ideas for myself. (I used Pam Barnhill’s free Summer printables.)

I’m sure that most of that “free time” will be taking care of business, getting supplies for little ones, applying sunscreen on four little noses, restoring peace to the universe, and patching up boo boos. BUT, for those rare moments when I have free time and don’t know how to begin, I can glance at my list for an idea to make the most of my opportunity. 🙂

READING FUN:

When it comes to community and online summer reading programs, I tend to fail.

I don’t know why.

They are just so hard.

The lists, the entries, the prizes… I try to juggle the Summer Reading Program Ball, but it’s one I keep dropping. So for the past few summers, I’ve just created our own Family Reading Challenge.

This year, I compiled a list of good books that are also good movies. Read a book from the list and we’ll watch the movie! Easy and fun.

I tried to include titles that are both good books and good movies. Want the plan for your own fridge? Here’s a copy that you can edit according to your particular family’s taste. Just click here: A Book and a Movie: Summer Reading Fun.

What goes on at your house on a regular old summer day?

A 3-Step Plan for Reading Aloud to Babies and Toddlers

LauraBabies, Books, Motherhood, Preschool, Toddlers

Picture this: You are holding your precious baby on your lap and opening a book to read aloud. You are building his love of reading, nurturing him with quality time, enriching his understanding of humanity. Two seconds later, that same child is escaping across the room – crying, no less – with a freshly-chewed board book in his grasp.

Sound familiar?

You and your baby are perfectly normal.

All of the experts agree that one of the most important things a parent can do is to read aloud to their child.

Most of us know this and we want this, but we silently face challenges on every side when we want to sit down with our baby and a book at the same time.

How in the world are we supposed to read to babies?!?

If reading aloud to your baby or toddler feels impossible, take heart: you’re not alone. All parents have to work with childhood’s limited attention span, unpredictable emotional needs, and ferocious appetites for book corners.

These challenges are part of reading aloud to children. So, if these things pop up in your home, you’re in good company.

All you need is a plan.

Reading aloud to babies requires a strategy.

Today, you and I are going to consider the obstacles and work out a plan so that we know when to, how to, and what to read.

I’ve learned how to read aloud to babies by asking my mom how she did it, and by trial-and-error over the past 12 years of reading to 5 different baby personalities in all kinds of circumstances. (Recently, I’ve received tons of inspiration, encouragement, and ideas from The Read-aloud Revival. I feel like I’ve found my people.)

I have some ideas that will help you to succeed in the ever-elusive ideal of reading aloud to your baby or toddler.

Are you ready?

The 3-Step Baby-friendly Read-aloud Plan:

(increase the odds that you will get through a page or two, un-chewed)

  1. Discover your child’s read-aloud style.

Every child has a unique learning style already at work by the time you open Goodnight Moon for the first time.

Part of your calling is to discover what your child likes about books in the first place.

We all read for different reasons. I read for life lessons. One of our daughters reads for story. Another one of our daughters connects with the characters and likes to re-enact the story afterward. One of our sons likes using books as a reference point. (True story: when he was 2, he suggested to his Sunday School teacher that they reference a picture of a truck from a book whilst working on a little art project.)

Remember that children are simply adults-in-the-making. Some contemplative adults read one paragraph, copy it in their Commonplace Books, and meditate on it for a few days. Other socially-charged adults join book clubs, read half the book, but have lots to say at the meeting.

Have fun observing your child’s unique approach to books and daydreaming about how they might grow to enjoy them over time.

What does your child like about books? 

  • Watching the words
  • Hearing the words
  • Looking at pictures
  • Interacting with the pictures
  • Connecting with the characters
  • Spending time with you
  • Role-playing afterward
  • Asking questions
  • Discussion
  • Personal contemplation
  • Something else?

Try this: Keep your eye open for your child’s learning style and be ready to nourish your child accordingly.

For example, some children will be far more interested in the illustrations, others will need one word or idea to spur a discussion, others will need one idea to spur a play time, others will like to listen to the words while staring into space, others will listen while playing something else, etc.

Once you know what your child likes about books, you can emphasize that when you read aloud. You’ll capture your child’s attention, have more fun, and feel like THE BEST MOM IN THE WORLD when you see your little one in love with a book.

(acting out The Tale of Peter Rabbit)

2. Discover when and where you will read-aloud together.

When is your child most likely to connect with a read-aloud? Every child has a natural “body clock” of energy highs and lows, times of contemplation and times of output.

Most of my babies have been mellow immediately after nursing, so I often read 1 book then in the morning and after nap-time.

Also, where does your baby or toddler seem to settle down and seem most attentive? In the high chair or bouncy seat? Snuggling on the couch? Make the most of the best time-and-place.

When and where are you willing to read aloud? 

Growing up, I always imagined that I’d snuggle with my young children before bed and read chapter upon chapter to them. Now that I’m a mother, this is not my reality.

Some people love to read at bedtime, but I don’t: my patience is as thin as paper by then, so I need to focus on getting those lights out. “Bedtime stories” don’t work for us because I want to spend those few precious evening hours with my husband, or with my own book, or writing to you. So, instead of reading aloud at bedtime, I sing a little song and we pray as a family.

It works best for me and my children to read at the table or in the playroom during the day, not snuggled up in bed at night.

Try this: For 3 days, simply observe when and where your child is quietest and most mellow. Then, plan to read 1 book during that time.

3. Design a Read-aloud Plan that suits you, your child, and your daily rhythm. 

Don’t wait for perfection: The perfect time, temperature or book might never come your way – so, you’re just going to have to do your best and jump in today. Have a hunch that now’s a good time to read? Grab a book and give it a try!

Set yourself up for success:  Keep a small basket of books in every location where you’ll be likely to find an opportunity to read to your baby: near the kitchen table, in the bathroom, next to the rocking chair, etc. Then, you’ll easily access a good book AND it’ll be easy to tidy up afterward.

Age-specific Suggestions…

Maybe some of these ideas will get your wheels turning as you create your Read-Aloud Plan:

Newborn:

Consider reading a poem or a Psalm when you nurse or bottle-feed your baby. Place the poem on your end-table so you don’t have to turn pages and read it aloud to your little one.

Lay down next to baby during tummy time, or prop baby up in your lap and read a simple book with well-defined pictures that you can point to and identify. Even if your baby isn’t looking at the pages, she is absorbing the language and the experience. You are establishing her expectations: you read aloud.

Our Five Favorites:

Goodnight Moon

Big Red Barn

Usborne First Words Look and Say Book

I Know a Rhino

DK Touch and Feel Farm

 

Highchair-sitting Baby:

 

Read nursery rhymes or a baby prayer book while your baby is eating.

The short poems allow for frequent interruptions, and yet you are introducing baby to rich language, ideas, illustrations, and the concept of reading from a book. You won’t feel as frustrated by the interruptions and your baby’s attention span will grow over time. (Added bonus: your baby is eating food and not the book.)

I think it’s often easier to read to an active baby when they are not sitting in my lap wrestling the book out of my hands. So, I like to read aloud when my baby’s in the Exersaucer or Jumpy Seat. I try to keep a few books in the base of the Exersaucer and in a basket near the jumpy seat, so they are accessible.

Toddler:

After you’ve taken some time to observe what type of reader/ learner God has given you, plan your read-aloud time accordingly.

Do you have an active kiddo? Read one board-book, then act it out.

Contemplative kiddo? Read a book, then let her play alone to think it through.

Talkative kiddo? Read a book, then talk about it all day long! Write down some of his thoughts and read them aloud as a story.

Some children like to hold a related toy while listening to the book. (i.e. My daughter loves to hold her “Corduroy” doll while reading the Corduroy books.)

Other children like to have their backs rubbed while they listen.

Our Five – okay, Seven – Favorites:

Judy Dunn’s “The Little ….” books like The Little Kitten

Robert McCloskey’s books like Blueberries for Sal

Clifford the Big Red Dog

Madeline

Little Bear books (read one chapter at a time)

Frog and Toad books (also read one chapter at a time)

Shorter Beatrix Potter books like The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of the Two Bad Mice, and The Tale of Jamima Puddle Duck.

 

A Read-aloud Rule-of-Thumb

I’m no literary expert, but I propose that we feel good about reading aloud:

1 board book for a 1 year old,

2 board books for a 2 year old,

3 board books or short picture books for a 3 year old, and

4 picture books for a 4 year old.

That has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? It’s not a science, but it’s a reasonable goal for most kiddos.

And, of course, don’t forget how wonderful and meaningful it is to talk to your little one

We can nurture our children’s literacy by talking to them about the stuff of life from day to day. (I wrote a whole post about that – including 10 Literary Themes for Babies and all! You’ll want to catch it here.)

Teach Your Baby to Read: The Secrets to a Literary Education

LauraAll Posts, Babies, Books, Early Elementary Education, English Literature, Homeschooling, Kindergarten, Motherhood, Preschool

Tucked in your daily routine are the secrets to your child’s literary education.

You’ll want to know what these are because your child’s literacy depends more on his grasp of the stuff of life than on his ability to decipher short-vowel sounds. After all, you and I can understand literature not only because we can physically read, but also because we can think well about stories and literary themes.

Nurturing a true reader…

Though a child may decipher the words in a chapter book, he may not understand friendship, sacrifice, and redemption. Another child may struggle to sound out multi-syllabic words, but may grasp the stuff of life.

Which child will love reading and read well throughout life?

If I were a betting woman, I’d place my money on the second child because he has the makings of a true reader.

  • A true reader is a person who can identify heroes and villains, discern between good and evil, and think deeply about universal truths.
  • A true reader knows how to follow a story from its introduction to its climax to its ending.
  • He knows how to analyze an author’s choices, a character’s decisions, and a story’s message.
  • She is strengthened by every book she reads because she knows how to think well.

One of the most thrilling aspects of motherhood is helping our children develop these beautiful capabilities from birth. (If you’ve been bored by “the early years” of motherhood, this may ignite a fire in you! Catch a vision for engaging your child in goodness, truth, and beauty. It’s never too early – or too late- to begin.)

Teach your baby to read before he learns to read.

Mothers are humanity’s first Literature professors: we teach our children how to read as we nurture them through infancy on up.

Every little thing is material for conversations that will shape our child’s ability to read well. When we talk to our children, we label their world – “See that fireman? He is a hero who rescues people from fires even when he is afraid.”

We develop our child’s understanding of life, of good and evil, heroism, hope, friendship, and anticipation.

Our ongoing conversation with our children is at the heart of their literary education.

When we talk to our little ones about the stuff of life, we set them up to understand The Bible, to appreciate Black Beauty in grade school, and to grasp Hamlet in high school. We set them up to love reading, to grow from the books they read, and to live well.

To build a foundation for your child’s literacy, throw your heart and soul into 2 simple daily habits:

  1. Read aloud. Stories themselves will introduce your little one to countless life lessons. (I’m hoping to write a post about this next. For now, visit The Read-Aloud Revival‘s blog and podcast. You’ll love it.)
  2. Talk about literary themes. That’s right. Literary themes are for babies. Read on…

Don’t be intimidated by “literary themes”.

You may associate the term “literary themes” with an overbearing high school English teacher, but let me assure you: literary themes are simply the stuff of life.

Long before your English teacher assigned that 5-page paper about the literary themes in Moby Dick, you were surrounded by the concepts of defiance, duty, friendship, and death.  Like the constellations that make sense of outer space, literary themes help us to make sense of truths that are bigger than ourselves, like life and death, rebirth, social mobility, and prejudice.

Classic literature is classic literature because it deals with the stuff of life.

The best books are the best books because they help us to make sense of life.

The life-concepts that a book tackles are its literary themes.

Your baby + intentional conversations = a true reader.

As your child explores the world, you will have countless opportunities to put words around the things she is observing.

Every family relationship, every task, habit, storybook, holiday, and walk in the park is replete with truths that can be expressed in simple, child-friendly terms.

Look for ways that you can connect everyday observations and experiences to deeper things: a fireman is a hero, a flower is beautiful, a loss is painful.  A few simple sentences will do. A little bit here, a little bit there, and you will have introduced and exercised your child’s vital literary skills.

With a little practice and a lot of heart, you can do this.

Ten Literary Themes for You and Your Baby

I gathered 10 literary themes that probably pop up in your child’s life on a regular basis. Skim the list and start talking about them today. (Of course, you don’t have to use the phrase “literary themes” until your child is in middle school. Remember, this is just the stuff of life. Maybe this isn’t your style, but keep in mind that these concepts will make you a more authentic and thoughtful person. On its best day, that’s what reading is all about.)

  1. The circle of life: 

Every day, we walk by the same rose bush. We notice that each flower endures a season of preparation as a bud, has its day of beauty, and endures a season of aging, decay, and death.  We notice that on the same day that yesterday’s flower is fading, yesterday’s bud is entering its own day of beauty.

2. The beauty of simplicity: 

When we clean up a chaotic playroom and enjoy one simple toy together in the middle of a clean carpet, I sigh with relief about the peace that comes with simplicity. I may say, “Isn’t it so nice to play with one thing at a time? Simplicity is so good for us.”

3. Darkness and light:

Every Halloween, we talk about the difference between darkness and light: we observe the physical, literal difference of a candle in a dark room, as well as the metaphoric difference between good and evil. We overcome the holiday’s emphasis on fear and death by blessing our neighbors with kindness.

4. Love and sacrifice: 

We often talk about the cost of loving one another. We need to be quiet when the baby is napping. We need to share our snacks with our friends. We need to work hard to set the table so that our family can eat together. Each act of love requires a sacrifice.

5. Man vs. Nature:

When the toddler faces a frightening thunderstorm, a dog, or a bumblebee, we talk about nature’s power. We admit that we are afraid because sometimes nature is more powerful than we are. What can we do to overcome its fearsome power? What can we do to stay safe and make wise choices? What songs can we sing to remind ourselves that God is more powerful than nature, that He loves us and cares for us?

6. Necessity of Work:

How do Mommy and Daddy provide for our family? Why does Mommy love to write? Why does Daddy mow the lawn? Why do I have to pick up my toys? Because God created us to work, and we must work in order to survive, to build a home, and to love one another well.

7. Wisdom of experience:

Let’s say our toddler was balancing on a small wagon until the wheels began to roll. She fell down with a thud. After comforting the little daredevil, I may say, “Look what you learned from that! Now you know to be more careful. You gained wisdom from that experience.”

8. Heroism:

Whenever possible, I talk about people who do brave and difficult things even when they are frightened or tired. Who protects and defends other people? These are real life heroes. “Look at Daddy protecting his baby from the rain even though his back is getting wet!” “Look at Mommy emptying the mouse trap even though she is grossed out.”  These daily occasions demonstrate the heroic qualities of self-sacrifice and courage.

9. Redemption:

When I am impatient or when the toddler throws a fit, we experience redemption after the tension has cleared away. When we are all patched-up, playing happily together again, I may say, “Thank you God, for redeeming my impatience. Isn’t God so good to make things better?”

10. Good vs. Evil:

This one’s a weighty concept, eh? Yet, the youngest member of society knows the difference between being treated kindly vs. being treated poorly. Though I would never say, “That kid who snatched your toy is evil,” I may say, “Grabbing toys is unkind. We feel much better when we respect one another. God wants us to respect each other because it is good.”

You get the idea!

Of course, our daily interactions aren’t as staged as my examples seem, but you get the idea. (And you probably have some great ideas spinning around in your head about how you may do this… differently… better! I’d love to know.)

The point is, after much use, these themes are in my blood and I look for ways to talk about them regularly with each of our children. I’m beginning to see some beautiful effects from conversations with our 12, 9, and 5 year old readers. I feel very good about their depth of understanding and their relationships with books. It motivates me to keep talking about literary themes with them – and not to grow lazy in my daily interactions with our baby and 3-year old.

Feel free to print these 10 Literary Themes as a cheat sheet to get you started. Post a copy on the fridge, by the changing table, or in the stroller cup-holder.

Give it a try and don’t give up even if it feels weird. Trust that you’ll grow over time and that your investment will nurture your child significantly.

10 Literary Themes for You and Your Child

  • Servings: 10
  • Print

Conversation is at the heart of literary education.

  • The Circle of Life
  • The Beauty of Simplicity
  • Darkness and Light
  • Love and Sacrifice
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Necessity of Work
  • Wisdom of experience
  • Heroism
  • Redemption
  • Good vs. Evil

Need more literary themes? Check out this ginormous list of possibilities. It’ll keep you busy.

I hope that this enriches your conversations with your child.

Daily nurture your little reader well before she learns that “when two vowels go a-walking, the first one does the talking.” (Keep in mind that when you teach her that little jingle, she may want to discuss the literary theme of “the power of silence”. Consider yourself warned.)

Happy talking. Happy reading.

A Fieldtrip for Medieval History: The Medieval Times Restaurant

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling

School’s Out!

This year, we studied a combo of Sonlight’s Core C and Core G, focusing on Medieval History. Our homeschool evaluator came this week, marking the end of our school year. I love paging through the kids’ portfolios and hearing them talk to the Evaluator about what they loved and learned this year. I usually just sit back and listen to them chat. It brings me so much joy!

Big, end-of-the-year celebration…

We concluded our Medieval History year by taking a special trip to The Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Maryland. What a fun adventure! If you can’t go back in time, this dinner-theater is a fun alternative. 😉 It enriches a child’s understanding of some Medieval vocabulary, dress, and entertainment.

(I don’t want to mislead you: it’s truly a show with a fog machine and everything, so don’t expect a truly authentic medieval tournament, but it’s a good show. It’s also expensive, so save up! And look for their special promotions.)

We checked in as soon as the doors opened, so our front-row seats were right near the King’s throne and the horses’ entrance. We felt the thrill of the horses rushing into the ring and the knights paying homage to the princess.

The horses do some of the same tricks that we read about in Marguerite Henry’s White Stallion of Lipizza. The girls were thrilled!

The knights enact a believable tournament with real horses, authentic medieval challenges, and real weapons, evoking scenes from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. I’m sure that the next time we study Medieval History, the children will have a more vivid foundation for the literature.

I’m glad we told our kids that it was “just a show”…

We told our kids ahead of time that the knights would be acting and that no one would be injured.  And we didn’t bring our 3-year-old: she would’ve been too frightened by the fog, loud music, and fighting.  I read too many accounts of parents having to console their sobbing children who thought that the knights had been killed in battle.

I recommend that you bring your children when they are able to understand the difference between real fighting and play-acting. We discovered that our honesty about the acting didn’t dampen the wonder: instead, we were all impressed by the knights’ athletic jumps, rolls, and choreography. (We did bring our 1-year-old. He just sat there, munching Cheerios, as if he sees galloping horses and jousting men at every meal.)

“How’d they do it?”

Afterward, we were a little obsessed with watching “Behind the Scenes” videos about The Medieval Times. We wanted to know how a person becomes a knight, what is required of them, how they plan the performance, and how they care for the horses. This video about the process of becoming a knight at The Medieval Times is interesting:

 

The Secret to Reading-aloud, Playing more games, Tackling big projects, and Singing to babies.

LauraMotherhood

The adrenaline-pumping command, “Just do it,” isn’t just for professional basketball players, you know.

Cindy Rollins, one of Homeschooling’s beloved matriarchs, says that when you want to change something about your daily life, you shouldn’t sit down at the computer to create an elaborate plan.

“Instead,” she says, “Just do it right then and there.”

Do you want to read aloud to your children? Grab a book and read aloud!

Do you want to play games as a family? Clear the kitchen table and set up that board game!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve wasted a lot of precious time and effort day-dreaming, scheming, and planning something without getting around to doing it.

 

This concept comes to my mind almost every day. It inspires some of my best decisions and helps me to make the most of my time.

So, you want to connect with your daughter? Why don’t you do that right now? Take her hand and walk down the lane. Paint her toe-nails. Sit down next to her and ask her a great question.

‘You want to sing to your baby more often? Sing the first song that pops into your head! 

You want to write an article, downsize the toys, or white-wash the deck? Pick one and get to work! Jump right in and do it.

Think about the difference between Bert’s pretty chalk drawings and Mary Poppin’s actual leap into the drawings.

Magical, right?

When it comes to daily life with friends and family, most of our ideals can be actualized if we just get down to business.

Live the beautiful picture in your mind by just doing the thing.

(The next time you feel a desire cross your heart like, I wish I smiled at my people more, just do it. Then, tell me about it? I need to know that I’m not the only one walking around with an odd mash-up of Michael Jordan, Cindy Rollins, and Mary Poppins on my shoulder.)

Don’t Miss May: How to Savor Your Life When It Feels Like a Blur

LauraFood, Marriage, Motherhood

I asked my friend to pray for me and my scattered thoughts.

I told her that everything – from food to end-of-the-year award ceremonies, from finances to flower gardens – seems out of control.

I’m eating my meals like a highly competitive garbage compactor.

I’m driving down the highway like a 3-year-old boy on a skateboard heading straight down a hill.

Everything is fast, fast, fast. Everything is whizzing right by me and I’m missing May.

She said, “I FEEL LIKE THAT, TOO!”

After all, this is the season of deadlines and finish lines. It’s the season of tying the bows and wrapping things up, which sounds blissful, but is extremely stressful for the mother who is tying all of the bows.

Do you feel like you are in a blur of recitals, concerts, portfolios, weddings, graduation parties, sporting events, and award ceremonies?

Do you feel like you are missing May, too?

Chin up.

We have half the month left!

We can do something to screech the breaks a little bit at least.

Let’s be present in May. Let’s feel it. Let’s taste it.

Let’s come up with a plan (a sustainable plan) to love and savor all of the good, celebratory stuff in May and June. What can we do so we don’t get lost in the blur of responsibility, quickly-inhaled meals, and check marks?

I’ll share my plan with you in hopes that you’ll share yours with me.

To make sure I don’t miss May, I will…

WRITE POST-IT NOTES.

I’m going to stick 3 of them in my life.

  1. At the kitchen table: “Sit down and Chew Your Food.”These two simple behaviors will help me to smell my food, taste my food, look at the faces around the table, share in conversation, and maybe – just maybe- remember and treasure the simple gifts that God gives me every day.
  2. In the front seat of the car: “Breathe 5 Times”.Even with this reminder, I can guarantee that I will breathe 3 times and forget all about it. My self-aware plan is to keep discovering that post-it note like a goldfish discovers its castle over-and-over again.

    The way I figure it, if I keep coming back to one deep breath after another – even if I stop at 3 – I’ll remember that I’m alive.

    I’ll look around me.

    I’ll pray.

    I’ll savor the changing world around me.

    And I might slow down.

  3. On my bathroom mirror: “Thank God for One Today-Thing”We remember things through experience, repetition, and personalization. That’s why I’m intentionally experiencing my meals, repeating my breathing, and now, personalizing the thing I want to remember about the day.

    Today I’d say, “God, thank you for the way my daughters were kind to the nurses and doctors at their appointments today. I was so pleased to see evidence that they’re becoming confident, well-spoken young women.”

    The next time I’d breeze by the mirror, I’d notice the post-it note and say, “Thank you for the pretty patio chair cushions that I found at BigLots. I’m so grateful that they were so inexpensive, and yet will add pleasant and comfortable  seating at our picnic table.”

    And the next time, maybe “Thank you for the International Student who drove out to the farm just to buy a $10 end table from me. I hope that she comes to know you and that I have another opportunity to connect with her.”

    Ah. Just in writing and praying that now, I slowed my whirring, calculating, what’s-next brain to thank God and notice what He has done. I noticed today in May.

I think I’ll keep it that simple: just 3 Post-it Notes. 

I was going to add some boldfaced points about taking a photo-of-the-day, of kissing each member of the family, of keeping a day journal, of creating a simple tradition for each celebration so that you don’t have to juggle so many details and plans (for example, instead of drumming up unique desserts after each-and-every end-of-the-year hooplah, why not go to the same neighborhood ice-cream shop every time? Be regulars! Or scoop out your own flat-bottom cones on the back porch? Or play a tournament of the same board game together? Why not give every graduate the same cool gift – like a Philips Head Screwdriver and a gift-card? You get the point…)

But I think that’s enough from me for today. I’m going to sign off and stop scheming about how you and I can savor May so we can just get down to business.

What will you do to slow and savor May?

How will you be present in all of the recitals, ceremonies, and celebrations that you are creating for everyone else?

Let me know your idea in the comments. You’ll be the wind beneath my wings. Honest, you will.

 

The Big Family Book Party: May, 2017

LauraAll Posts, Books

Although April showers are bringing May showers around here, we’re celebrating this month’s Book Party with flowers anyway.  Here’s what we loved in April and recommend for your May. 🙂

For the adventure-lover: The Green Ember series is sweeping the young adult and read-aloud communities by storm. Lia is the first person in our family to “hop” into the series and, boy is she in. She loved it. (She already started Ember Falls, the second book in the series… look for that recommendation in June.)

The synopsis from Amazon: “Heather and Picket are extraordinary rabbits with ordinary lives until calamitous events overtake them, spilling them into a cauldron of misadventures. They discover that their own story is bound up in the tumult threatening to overwhelm the wider world.

Kings fall and kingdoms totter. Tyrants ascend and terrors threaten. Betrayal beckons, and loyalty is a broken road with peril around every bend.”

 

For the school boy: The Usborne Living Long Ago is a homeschooling standard for little ones. Every day, our 6th grader reads a few pages of this book to our Kindergarten Superhero. Learn how people lived, dressed, ate, and traveled through history. His adjective for the book? “Awesome.” His favorite pages are those that explain “how people got around”.

 

For anyone learning how to be a true friend: Little Blue Truck features 2 trucks, plenty of animal noises, a heroic toad, and a celebration of friendliness. This one is a keeper. And, apparently, a real tear-jerker.

 

For a quick, happy read before nap time (or for your favorite chicken):

Laura’s Little House is our 3-year old’s recent go-to book. It’s a simple flap-book with sweet illustrations from the Little House on the Prairie Series. Audrey loves the page where Ma is cooking stewed pumpkin in her cast iron kettle.

For your preteen/ teen who loves humor, adventure, and fantasy: On the Edge of the Sea of Darkness is the first book in Andrew Peterson’s quirky and endearing Wingfeather Saga. This is another series that is taking the YA/ read-aloud community by storm.

The synopsis from Amazon:” Andrew Peterson spins a quirky and riveting tale of the Igibys’ extraordinary journey from Glipwood’s Dragon Day Festival and a secret hidden in the Books and Crannies Bookstore, past the terrifying Black Carriage, clutches of the horned hounds and loathsome toothy cows surrounding AnkleJelly Manor, through the Glipwood Forest and mysterious treehouse of Peet the Sock Man (known for a little softshoe and wearing tattered socks on his hands and arms), to the very edge of the Ice Prairies.” 

Viv loved this delightful story right away and is waiting for the second book through inter-library loan. It should arrive any day now… (We’re especially excited to “meet” Andrew Peterson through August’s Author Access event at The Read-Aloud Revival.)

 

For the C.S. Lewis and Tolkien fan: Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings is my five-star recommendation for anyone interested in the Inklings, writing, community, collaboration, or mentorship.

The author, Diane Pavlac Glyer, is a leading expert on The Inklings (the band of brilliant writers who collaborated on one another’s work) and shares insights on primary sources – letters, conversations, and notes.

When I read BandersnatchI felt like I was standing outside the window of an Inkling meeting – papers riffling, pipe smoke billowing, tea cups clinking – and I couldn’t stop staring. Time vanished! The Inklings inspire me to write, think, and build friendships with other people who write, think, and build friendships.

 

(Although Ryan would have posed for his picture with the book and some flowers – definitely, no question – he happened to have lent the book to a friend. True story. To make it up to you, I’ll post a few extra photos of the kiddos revealing how easy it is to create literary bliss around here… and explaining why I rarely do Instagram.)

For your baseball/ history lover: This month, Ryan recommends Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. He loves stuff like this: the true story behind history-shaping events, revealing the fiber of man’s character and the impact of his decisions.

The Synopsis from Amazon: “The headlines proclaimed the 1919 fix of the World Series and attempted cover-up as “the most gigantic sporting swindle in the history of America!” First published in 1963, Eight Men Out has become a timeless classic. Eliot Asinof has reconstructed the entire scene-by-scene story of the fantastic scandal in which eight Chicago White Sox players arranged with the nation’s leading gamblers to throw the Series in Cincinnati.”

 

OUT-TAKES…

The Photobombing Chicken

 

The Photobombing Dog

 

There’s that chicken again.

 

Ah, yes… the photobombing watering can.

Love our book suggestions? Check these out, too:

The Big Family Book Party: April, 2017

The Big Family Book Party: March, 2017