Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Some Time in Your Family's Schedule for Reading

Before my first son was born, a co-worker (and mother of a bright preschooler with a huge vocabulary) told me that the best advice she'd received was to read to her child every day.  Now that I’m a parent I can say I agree wholeheartedly.  This wasn’t a new concept for me or my husband, we’d grown up in reading households with parents who read to us and took us to the library.  I recall trips to our town’s local library with my mother and sister fondly.  My mother in law would tell her son (an avid bookworm) to get outside, even with his book, just get outside!  He would go climb a tree on the family farm and read there.  From the very start I read to my son.  I would read to him while I rocked him to sleep, while in the swing, during tummy time, and by the time he was able to talk he would ask me to read "a big pile of books".  Both of my boys knew from a young age that if they asked mom or dad to read to them we'd drop whatever we were doing to read to them.

It makes me cringe to hear a parent say that they don't read to their child.  “He or she doesn't have the attention span...yet,” they’ll say.  Where do you think they learn to have an attention span?  Or to hear parents say their child is too young, that they're afraid their child will rip up the pages.  How do you think they'll learn to treat a book gently unless you show them and let them practice?  I think a great gift for a new parent is a picture book with a roll of tape.

This fall I was volunteering at my son's school book fair when I came upon a book called the Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  I just finished it and found it to be interesting.  Most of the studies and statistics support the importance of reading aloud to children were not surprising to me and supported what I already found to be true with my own young children.  I did learn some new concepts like the fact that children have a reading level and a listening level, and that you should continue reading to your child long after they can read to themselves.  It also rekindled my passion for reading to my children and introduced me to some important ideas that I'd like to implement in my household.

Be a Reading Role Model
Reading at the family farm over winter break

One thing that I had not considered until reading this book is the importance of modeling reading to my children.  I enjoy reading, but with all that is crammed into a typical day and the distractions that pop up constantly I have to make it a priority to set aside time to read or it just won’t happen.  If there’s no deadline, and no immediate need (like laundry, dishes and feeding my family) then it easily gets pushed to the side.  But this book reminded me that being an adult reading role model for my kids should get just as high a ranking as the other important tasks of daily life.  It doesn’t have to be an extended amount of time, and it can be any reading material: book, newspaper, magazine etc.  I know this to be a problem in other households too because I tried to start a book club/playgroup for moms and toddlers.  I had a tough time finding other moms that liked to read.  Then once I had a small group going, one of the reasons it fell through was because the majority of the group couldn’t find time to finish a book!  Even moms who enjoyed reading!  Isn’t it sad?  A book discussion where one or more of the participants is sharing based on the reviews they read about the book on amazon is not sustainable!  There were also some personality dynamics that didn’t work within that group, then one devoted member moved out of state and that was the end of that.  The thing I was benefiting from the group was that it created a deadline for me.  My personal issue with reading isn’t that I don’t like to read, I do, it’s because I don’t make time for it unless I have a deadline, and a monthly book group created the deadline I needed.  I’m still keeping my eye out for a group that might be more successful.

On Limiting Screen Time

“…the greatest academic damage done may not be by the content of the shows viewed but by what is not being done during those hours…the games not played, the chores not done, the drawings not drawn, the hobbies not worked, the friends not made or played with, the homework not done, the bikes or skateboards not ridden, the balls not caught, the books not read, the conversations not held.” –Jim Trelease

I noticed friends with older children had different methods of limiting their screen time.  When I was expecting my first child I devoured any information on parenting I could find and one tidbit that stuck was that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not allowing children under two years of age any screen time.  When my son was an infant I would seat him facing away from the TV when it was on and once he was big enough to move on his own he would reposition himself to see whatever was on the screen so I would only have it on if he was napping or after bedtime.  Once my boys were two we allowed them a set limit each day (and many days they watched less than the maximum limit).  I found that I preferred kids programming on PBS best, my kids did learn while being entertained and the plot lines and concepts spilled over into their playtime in ways that were creative, making meaningful connections.  I love the quote above because it makes such a great point.  No matter how good quality the programming is, when they are watching TV they are not doing other things and are missing out.

Not Sure What to Read-Aloud?

The last section of the book is devoted to a “giant treasury of great read-aloud books”.  They are categorized by length (picture books, short novels and novels) with a short description and recommended age range.  A smaller version is available at his website: along with excerpts from his handbook.  If you are curious about this Read-Aloud Handbook the website will give you a good preview of what the book has to offer.

How do you encourage your creative little hearts to fall in love with books and reading? What results have you observed from reading to your child?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Survival Guide to Baking With Your Kids

Christmas is almost here.  There are still things to wrap, a gift for my nephew that I still have to finish making and last minute shopping.  But when my son asked me to pull out our family recipes and make his great-great grandmother’s pierogi recipe, I couldn’t say no.  It’s a recipe I remember my grandmother making each Christmas growing up and when I was in my early twenties I tried to make it.  It was an epic fail.  So my sister and I asked our grandmother and aunt to teach us how to make them.  We needed to see someone make them and then have them watch us and help us fix what we were doing wrong.  It’s one of those handed-down recipes where you have to add “enough” flour and knead it ‘til it “feels right”.  Perhaps now I could search you tube for a tutorial video, but that day of “Pierogi School” was so much more meaningful.  We learned our family’s recipes from our family. 

However, the idea of cooking or baking with children often seems like a wonderful idea until you are in the middle of the actually doing it.  You know that moment when you wonder what on earth possessed you to do this!  There’s a great cartoon by Amber Dusick of floating around facebook where the top picture is what you imagine baking with your children will be like – it’s ideal, everyone is smiling and clean… then the bottom picture shows the reality, one child is squirting frosting in their mouth, everyone is covered in sprinkles.  It’s so true!  And it’s painful to watch a three year old make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich never mind roll out dough!  But before you reach for the slice n’ bake consider what is gained from making something from scratch and check out my survival guide below.  

  1. Safety First – Remind them about kitchen safety and set guidelines.  For example: when I’m about to open the oven I announce it to my kids and they have to touch the doorframe on the opposite side of the room until the oven door is closed.  When we use any small appliance I remind them that it’s my job to plug and unplug it and any other rules to keep them safe.
  2. It’s about the process, not the product – It may not be the prettiest, but letting your child make something without you following behind “fixing” it will give them a sense of accomplishment and show that you have confidence in their abilities. 
  3. Show by example - And then let them have a go at it, don’t be afraid to help them if you see something that they can improve on that’s not just aesthetic (like sealing the edges of a pirogues so the filling doesn’t leak out). 
  4. Give them one step at a time – If you give a child too many steps at once they will get confused.  Take it one step at a time.
  5. Be specific, very specific – When my son was five I asked him to grease a bowl for bread to rise in and he did.  He greased the inside and the outside.  Be very specific.
  6. Set aside enough time – Squeezing a batch of cookies in between activities will surely stress you out.  It always takes more time when you have “help” from a child so plan on it.
  7. Don’t overwhelm yourself – Cut a recipe in half or put half the cookie dough in the freezer to be baked on the next snow day.  You don’t have to do it all today.  I should have halved my recipe today, but I guess it’s not so bad that we have 75 pirogues in the freezer now.
  8. Reinforce math and reading skills -   Let them help you read the recipe and count the amounts of ingredients as they are added.  It’s easier for me to measure it out – obviously, but when I remember what they gain it helps me ease up.
  9. Expect some mistakes – Let them crack open the egg, but do it in a small dish so you can

    easily fish out any pieces of shell.
  10. Use the timer to your advantage – You have 8 minutes til this batch comes out of the oven?  See if you can sweep the kitchen before the timer beeps!
  11. It’s going to be messy – get over it.  After the kids are in bed pour a glass of wine, turn on some music and do the dishes.  You might also have to wash the floor…and your hair… but it will be ok.

My son thought we had the best supper ever.  He was all smiles.  And you know the reality is probably going to look like the bottom picture on the cartoon, but when you look back on it, you’ll both remember it as the top picture.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2 Ingredient Puff Paint

 This week everyone at my son’s school came home with a gingerbread house to decorate.  My son colored it with colored pencil, decorated it with glitter glue and then we whipped up some 3-D paint for snow.  It’s super easy and only takes two ingredients!  Simply mix equal parts of original shaving cream and white craft glue.  Stir and apply with a popsicle stick.  Allow this fluffy white stuff to dry overnight.  The results are so cool!  Great for winter pictures of snowmen on colored paper too.

2 Ingredient Puff Paint:
Original Shaving Cream 
White Craft Glue

Monday, December 9, 2013

Snow Painting

The first snow of the season fell yesterday.  The snow was good for sledding yesterday, but overnight the weather changed and freezing rain coated the fluff transforming the surface into a slippery crust.  My first grader had a school delay and as he pressed his nose to the sliding glass door sighed, “Ice is no fun.”  That is, until I broke out the food coloring!

small containers, a plastic egg carton or a foil lined paper egg carton
food coloring
drinking straw or eye dropper
fresh water for cleaning brushes between colors

Drop food coloring into the small containers and add drops of water to dilute.  Then find a nice patch of icey snow and make your masterpiece! This is a fun project for practicing color mixing too.

Food coloring isn’t washable so I sent my son out in an old coat just in case;)

If the snow cracks as you walk on it, it's the perfect consistency for snow painting,
anything thats too fluffy will simply stick to your brushes.