Good Reads for Kids – August 2014

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This month I’m focusing on poetry. There are some great poems out there for kids, and there are some truly crummy ones. Let’s focus on the good ones!

1. Oxford Illustrated Book of Children’s Poems – Not every poem in this book was our favorite (some I didn’t even read to the kids), but the classics plus illustrations made it worth checking out.

2. A Meal of the Stars – Anja originally didn’t want to read this book because “it looked boring.” But the puzzle of figuring out which way to read each poem lured her in at once, as did the clever illustrations. Bravo, local author Dana Jensen!

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3. The Real Mother Goose – Classic children’s poems (some quite frightening!) as you remember them, and some as you don’t. The price on this is outstanding

4. Where the Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silverstein’s poetry tomes have become classics in their own right, and Anja regularly picks this one up to read the silly, somewhat sordid verses. They usually rhyme, which appeals to her at age six.

 

Markus, 4 1/2

Little man of ours, at 4 1/2, you:

  • Verbalize everything. You are a non-stop talker from the moment your feet hit the floor until your head hits the pillow. It is exhausting for this mama, who is an internal processor.
  • Are incredibly creative. We marvel at your drawings, the things you create out of Duplos, your play stories, your questions. I love how God has wired you!
  • Are getting more adventurous with foods. You will now occasionally accept a small amount of sauce or dressing with salads, and you’ve eaten tomatoes (only one and very on purpose) several times.
  • Have stopped napping. You gave them up cold turkey at the end of May. That’s been a transition, to say the least. :)
  • Are as intense as ever. You have patented what we call your “pterodactyl scream,” which occurs anytime you are interrupted, anytime your sister gets near you, anytime you aren’t getting what you want, anytime we “aren’t listening to you,” and many other instances. We. hate. it. And we are still working with you on overcoming your need to it. “Please use words instead,” is heard a lot around here.
  • Disassemble everything. We find screws, bolts, nuts…just PIECES of your bed, your easel, your toys…everywhere. I fully expect your bed to collapse beneath you some night.
  • Demand very specific coloring pages. Your coloring books are not good enough anymore. I have had to limit you to one coloring sheet per day, or I’d be printing them out hourly. And you always have a very specific idea in mind when you request them, which isn’t easily met. “Mama, I want a racecar coloring sheet, but no faces on the cars, and with lots of cars on a racetrack, and one of them is the number nine…” I can’t tell you the number of coloring sheets I’ve ended up drawing for you because nothing online matched your customized request.
  • Enjoy reading. I read aloud to you and Anja probably 30-60 minutes per day, and you both enjoy it immensely. Daddy has read you Redwall and has started Mossflower with you over the past six months, and while they’re a bit over your head, you still listen for the most part. Some other chapter books you’ve enjoyed are: The Cricket in Times Square, Henry Huggins, and several of The Bobbsey Twins series.
  • Are getting more independent. Some days you’ll even open your dresser and grab your own clothes and get dressed before I’m awake. I don’t mind that at all!
  • Say the funniest things. We really appreciate your sense of humor. For instance, just while I was writing this, you fussed, “I have to pretend destroy Anja, but she’s running really fast and she’s not going to give my Legos back to me unless I pretend kill her!”
  • Need to be externally motivated. Unlike your sister, who is only self-motivated, you need a carrot dangled in order to accomplish tasks, whether it be a treat, a privilege, or an outing. You see no need to complete chores unless there’s something in it for you.
  • Wrestle with anyone who will let you near them. They might be your size or 6 times your size (Mr. Dustin?), you charge at them with the same ferocity. Your sister does not always appreciate this. You are competitive.
  • Act shy around strangers until they look away. Then you realize you might lose their attention and begin talking their ears off.
  • Are a very social boy. You want to be around people constantly. Getting you to stay in your room for longer than 5 minutes for afternoon quiet time is a big challenge.
  • Have some favorites. Color: blue. Food: pizza. Movie: Planes. Bible Story: David and Goliath. Book: Transformers something-or-other from the library. Toy: Audralina the fox. Indoor activity: Legos. Outdoor activity: biking.
  • Learned to bike with pedals. Now we can do family bike rides! They’re on the slow side, but still fun.
  • Can write most of your letters and some of your numbers. I think we’re going to work on letter formation this year. After spending months un-teaching and re-teaching your sister all her letters in first grade, I want to start you off right!
  • Still like to cuddle with your mama. I’m so glad!
  • Are curious. I think this is why you take things apart and ask so many questions…you have a great desire to learn! We were amazed by your little sponge-brain picking up almost all of Anja’s memory work just from listening along in the car.
  • Have had a little growth spurt since spring, but are still short for your age. All the friends you dwarfed as a baby are taller than you.

We love you, Markus, and we are excited to see where God takes you and how He uses your unique giftings.

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Applegate Wienervention

A couple weeks ago I received a hilarious email from Applegate. “Let’s be frank: Friends shouldn’t let friends eat bad meat. It’s time to stage a “Wienervention” and Applegate is here to help.”

They sent me a lovely box of wieners and other cookout-related supplies (pictured below). There were no strings attached to this gift, but I really like their products and want to blog about it anyway!

If your kids like hot dogs the way mine do, you are probably looking for a healthier way to serve them up. I’ve tried other versions of “healthy” hot dogs, but in my opinion, Applegate’s are the best-tasting! I’ve also had their deli meats, cheeses, and bacon and been impressed by the quality of all their products.

More than 90% of people who consume hot dogs would rather purchase franks with a short ingredient statement, and that’s where Applegate steps in. Our ingredient list is simple: beef (that has never been administered antibiotics or hormones), water, salt and spices. It’s time to say goodbye to those dirty dogs filled with sodium phosphate, sodium nitrate, and who knows what else!

Do your backyard barbecue a favor and try them!

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Good Reads for Kids – June 2014

Last month I wrote about some of the chapter books we’ve read this year. This month I will highlight some of our favorite picture books.

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We check out probably 50-60 books per month from the library. I thought that seemed like a lot until I heard my cousin (who also homeschools) had 76 out at once. Haha! So much of our education is dependent on reading; we want our kids to enjoy it and actually DO it a lot. We keep our library bin and our kids’ bookshelves in their room (and let’s be honest, our coffee table, end tables, kitchen table, buffet…any flat surface) well-stocked with reading materials.

Here are some favorite picture books we’ve read so far this year:

1. Here’s a Penny – The kids really enjoyed the simple tales of Penny and his neighbor Patsy. (Okay, so this one’s technically still a chapter book, but it has more pictures than your average chapter book.)

2. Grasshopper on the Road – Anja read this one aloud to Markus. They laughed a lot. We are HUGE Arnold Lobel fans. Can’t go wrong with almost any of his books. See also Small Pig.

3. Cowardly Clyde – Auntie brought over this book. Our children will choose almost any book with a dragon in it, so this was a hit. And what I said about Lobel above? Same with Bill Peet. Love almost any of his books.

4. The Children’s Book of Virtues – A collection of fables, folk tales, stories and poems that inspire character in young ones (and adults!).

5. Going West – Even though I’ve read some of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s actual stories to Anja, she (and Markus) still really get into these picture books based on the Little House series.

6. The Best Nest – A P.D. Eastman classic about learning to love the home you’ve got. Anja has read many of his books aloud.

7. Up North at the Cabin – This doesn’t read like fiction because it’s based on real places and events. If you know what lake country is like in the Midwest, you’ll find it to reflect that lifestyle perfectly.

8. Audrey Bunny – I fell in love with the story before realizing that the author is Angie Smith, whose blog I read regularly when I first began this one. A tear-jerker.

9. If I Ran the Zoo – Dr. Suess is a winner in our house almost every time. The man was a genius.

10. How To – Not much word content, but makes up for it in imagination.

What picture books have you enjoyed lately? Any favorite authors? Do share!!

Summer Unit Studies

We homeschooled this past year. I plan to blog more about that later, but for now I’d love to share some of the basic ideas we have for continuing our education through the summer. We’ve done this the past several summers, and it’s worked well for our pace. I don’t always get to every activity planned (or, being honest, every theme, depending on the week!), but I know that I have something there if the kids need direction or we have a lot of open mornings in a week.

summer 2014 unit studies

A source of inspiration for me are the local and regional Community Ed/Activity calendars. I often use those as a jumping-off point for picking our theme and then incorporate simple activities I know our kids will love. Here are some our themes and related activities for 2014.

GARDENING

  • Rake, dig, plant seeds
  • Read gardening books
  • Learn about some different types of plants

GARDEN ART

  • Build fairy gardens
  • Make a homemade bird feeder
  • Continue gardening, planting, weeding

KITES

  • Read stories about kites
  • Make our own kites
  • Fly kites
  • Play kite-related games

PIRATES

  • Read pirate stories
  • Make treasure maps and a telescope
  • Do a treasure hunt at a local park
  • “Walk the Plank” game

UNDERSEA SURPRISES

  • Visit a local aquarium
  • Make under the sea drawings/crafts
  • Read books about unusual sea creatures
  • Practice math with “under the sea” worksheets and manipulatives

NATURE DETECTIVES

  • Go dip-netting
  • Hike together
  • Check out a bird identification book from the library and try to spot and name some local birds

PARADISE

  • Have a luau
  • Visit the local pool
  • Learn about rainforest biome and the creatures in it

GONE FISHIN’

  • Tackle box math
  • Go fishing at a local lake
  • Do a scientific experiment about buoyancy using different objects

BEACH FUN

  • Sand activities
  • Visit local beach
  • Paint al fresco
  • Read books at the beach and about the beach

CATERPILLARS AND BUTTERFLIES

  • Visit MN Zoo’s butterfly garden
  • Make caterpillar and butterfly crafts
  • Do simple math problems with caterpillar segments
  • Observe butterflies in our yard

MESSY FUN

  • Make slime
  • Paint outdoors using various homemade paints
  • Outdoor water and mud play

CAMPING

  • Read camping books
  • Learn about constellations and star patterns
  • Make s’mores over a fire
  • Learn how to pack by packing for our own camping trip

BUBBLES, RAINBOWS & POPSICLES (this one is admittedly a mish-mash of all things summer)

  • Count popsicle sticks
  • Blow bubbles, make our own solution
  • Rainbow crafts and art
  • Popsicle stick crafts

SPLASHES AND ICE CREAM

  • Run through the sprinkler
  • Visit the local pool
  • Make homemade ice cream
  • Visit a local ice cream parlor
  • Play “ice cream shop” with Play-Doh creations, practice adding #s

MINNESOTA HISTORY

  • Visit a local history museum
  • Go to the Minnesota State Fair and learn about how it came to be (while eating delicious things on a stick)
  • Read books about pioneers in this area

Sea Life Aquarium MN

This week our family got a chance to visit Sea Life Aquarium at the Mall of America. They sent us some complimentary tickets a couple weeks ago, and Husband took the day off work so we could all go together.

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They just closed their octopus exhibit and are gearing up for a crab exhibit called Claws! It opens in June and includes Giant Japanese Spider Crabs. Those things are HUGE!

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My personal favorite creature was the garden eel. I could’ve watched those little guys for half an hour. Husband said they reminded him of Slimey. They fed them while we were there, and all these little snails appeared out of nowhere (I think they crawled up out of the sand) and started eating, too.

One other funny moment was when Husband was holding Markus in the Ocean Tunnel (where the creatures swim right over/around you), and I pointed and said, “Look!” Markus turned around and there was a huge stingray right in his face. He panicked and dug his little face into Husband’s neck.

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If you are looking for something fun to do in the Twin Cities and are short on time, check out Sea Life. Kids of ALL ages will enjoy it!

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They also have tours for school groups and even a special week for homeschools.

(Out to lunch afterward)

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Spring 2014 Fun List

Every season, we make a “Fun List.” They’re probably similar to the “bucket lists” you see on Pinterest, but we strive to keep our lists relatively short (10-20 items per season) and attainable. And though we live in MN, we use them for the actual 3-month seasons, so often our fall and spring fun lists need to include snow activities. Here are a few lists from past years as well as a list of what we have on our current list:

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1. Go eye-balling

2. Go swimming at the gym

3. Sprinkler/water table fun

4. Make an Easter craft

5. Hike at a local park

6. Family bike ride

7. Eat at our favorite local diner

8. Fly kites

9. Play at the park

10. Go to Dakota Heritage Village

11. Rides at the Mall of America

12. Special surprise for Daddy

13. Plant a garden

14. Draw flowers on the sliding door with dry erase markers

15. Pick strawberries

We keep this list posted in the kitchen so that we can revisit it every week or so, crossing off things we’ve done or planning when to try something else on it. As you can see, the items vary widely in the amount of prep/$/time involved. And I try to steer the kids toward things that we already have on the calendar. So far, spring cleaning hasn’t made the list. :)

Good Reads for Kids – May 2014

Since we’re on a reading kick this month, I thought I might start a monthly feature about what kids’ books we’ve recently enjoyed. My kids are both avid readers and have both loved books from a young age (I sure hope that continues!). As they have gotten older, I’ve gotten more choosy about which books we have in the house. I want them to enjoy reading, but I also want them consuming decent literature.

Over the past couple of months we’ve done quite a few chapter books. Here are the kids’ favorites:

1. The Cricket in Times Square

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2. The Boxcar Children

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3. The Mouse and the Motorcycle

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4. Henry Huggins

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5. Ralph S. Mouse

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6. The Bobbsey Twins of Lakeport (first in a series)

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7. Redwall

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I read all these books as a kid (except Redwall, which Husband introduced to me in college), so it was great fun for me to re-read them with my own children. I was surprised that Markus could keep up with the plots, but even in Redwall he seemed to pay great attention and remember tiny details. If it’s helpful to reference my kids’ ages, they are 4 and 6 1/2. I wouldn’t say any child could handle Redwall, but my son loves battles of any kind, and my husband did a good job of editing anything inappropriate as he read.

What are your favorite chapter books for littles? I’m always on a quest for recommended titles. Some that are on our list for this spring and summer are Martin’s Mice, Betsy-Tacy, and In Grandma’s Attic.

The Post Alpha-Bits Little Free Library is up!

We’ve had quite the weather this April, from continued snow to a couple days of sun back to super-cold and then a week of rain. All that to say my lovely friend Maggie was finally able to get the Post Alpha-Bits Little Free Library up and ready for use this weekend!

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It is located at 15858 Harwell Avenue in Apple Valley, with a cute little path leading to it from the sidewalk. We would love to have you stop by and check out a book! Now that it’s finally outdoor weather, come out for a walk with the family, or bring your grandkids. If you have a book you/your kids have outgrown and would like to share it with the neighborhood, drop it off! It really is a community endeavor. We all win when kids have easy access to age-appropriate books, and we can all contribute to each other’s learning and access to great literature! And you can’t miss it–it has the Super Why? characters on the side. :)

Anja and I stopped by today, and she checked out a Berenstain Bears book and left a little note in Maggie’s notebook. She was very excited!

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Do you live too far away to stop by our LFL? There is probably one in your neighborhood, too! Check out this map.

We are so thankful to Post Alpha Bits for the opportunity to share all the literacy fun with our community. My son continues to love Alpha Bits as a snack in the afternoons, plus there’s the added fun of picking out the letters and spelling his name with his snack! Here are some recipe ideas using Alpha Bits. Click here for more information on Alpha-Bits cereal.

To learn more about Little Free Library and how you can get involved, find them on Facebook and Twitter.

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I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a sample for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

Papercuts

Last summer at the Minnesota State Fair, I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea Martin and watching her work for awhile in the Fine Arts building (looking at the art there is always a highlight of our day at the fair). I was enthralled with her work, and I immediately began looking into paper-cutting and what all it entailed.

Fast forward to January, when Husband took me to see the Papercut! exhibit at American Swedish Institute. Karen Bit Vejle has devoted decades to perfecting her craft, and to see such large-scale papercuts was very inspiring. I immediately began dabbling with the materials I had on hand. Here are my first four papercuts, done with an Exacto knife and materials I had on hand (I ordered silhouette paper for the last). On the third one I folded once to create a symmetrical border, then opened to cut the design. I really look forward to exploring this art form more!

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