Sunday, June 26, 2011

Storybook Travels

Summer is synonymous with travel. Great weather and three fun-filled months without school make it the perfect time for vacations, staycations, road trips, and sightseeing. Whatever your vacation plans, summer is also a great time to build excitement in reading by incorporating books into your activities.

When my nieces were little, we spent an afternoon at the Boston Public Garden retracing the path of the Mallard family from Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings. We walked the same path in front of the Four Seasons Hotel as Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack, scoured the pond for safe places to build a nest, and searched for the kindly policeman who stopped traffic for Mrs. Mallard and her brood. We scanned the rooftops of the buildings surrounding the park for the rounded dome of the Capitol Building, and enjoyed a rereading of the story seated under a weeping willow tree. To end our adventure, we visited the bronze tribute to McCloskey and his wonderful book, where the girls posed for some photos with the Mallard family.

This fun activity was the perfect way to bring Make Way For Ducklings to life as we did some sightseeing around historic Boston. The added bonus was that we were able to reinforce the joy of the story, and as a result reading in general, taking us one step closer to growing lifelong readers.

Although McCloskey's story is particular to Beantown (and I encourage you to try this activity if you are visiting this summer!) there are likely lots of great children's books that will be a perfect enhancement to your vacation (or staycations) plans:

Bring the story of the precocious Eloise, hotel dweller and mischief maker extraordinaire, to life by enjoying an afternoon of tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and participate in a scavenger hunt to find Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm #30 and Edgar Degas' Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, the two paintings featured in Olivia by Ian Falconer. Older children can retrace the steps of Claudia and her younger brother from E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Read Diary of a Worm or Yucky Worms and then dig in a garden or explore under a rock to examine the real thing.

Pore over Sky Boys: How They Built The Empire State Building by James E. Ransom, then take an elevator to the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Prior to visiting Maine, read One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey (can you tell he is a favorite?), The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown or Going Lobstering by Jerry Pallotta to get a feel of this unique New England state.

A trip to the ocean wouldn't be complete without a reading of Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan,  Flotsam by David Weisner or Ladybug Girl at the Beach by David Soman.

Prepare for a ball game, or the start of little league season, with a rousing reading of Zachary's Ball by Matt Tavares, Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, or Take Me Out To The Ball Game by Jack Norworth.

Get creative - even your mode of transportation is a starting point - and find clever ways to incorporate picture books into your summer plans. Not only will you be enhancing your "sightseeing' experience, but you are reinforcing the idea that reading is enjoyable, informative and relevant. A perfect way to encourage lifelong readers!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Our Latest Obsession: Earthworms

My pink and purple wearing, tiara sporting princess has a new obsession - EARTHWORMS! I might have expected this from my youngest, a truck obsessed, dirt loving tomboy (amusingly also dressed in a tiara!), but from my 3 year old who runs for cover at the sight of a solitary ant? Never!

This fascination is the result of their most recent preschool unit. The girls eagerly start their morning sifting through newspaper ribbons, old coffee grounds and table scraps to wake up their beloved earthworms and to study them with magnifying glasses. And, under the direction of their teachers, have spent time observing the worms, making compost, playing in the garden and even creating earthworm inspired paintings.

How do I show my support for this new found interest? Head to the library for books on my daughters' favorite annelidas, of course! After a morning browsing through a surprising number of books on the topic, I found these three charming books worthy of reading together:

Yucky Worms! by Vivian French
A grandmother introduces her grandson to her helpful "friend," the earthworm.

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin
An amusing and informative series of diary entries from the point of view of a school-age worm.

Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals
A rhyming recipe for making a batch of Compost Stew from scratch. Great illustrations!

After your interest in piqued by these great books, enjoy these ideas for indulging in earthworm inspired exploration and fun:
  • Draw a picture of an earthworm and label its parts. See Yucky Worms (p. 4) for help.

  • Go exploring! Look for worms in your garden, under rocks, or on the sidewalk after it rains. Has it been dry? Make it rain using a hose or watering can, and then sit back and watch the worms come to the surface. (Yucky Worms, p.20)

  • Place a worm on a piece of paper and hold it to you ear. The faint scratching sound you are hearing is the noise made by the bristles on the earthworm's belly as it moves. (Yucky Worms, p.25)

  • Start a compost pile of your own. Refer to the last page of Compost Stew for more information about what you can and can't put into your compost.

  • Create art! Dip string or yarn into brown paint and drag it across a piece of green construction paper, emulating the way a worm moves. Label your art work "Worms in the Grass". (Idea compliments of Smart Start Learning Center, Sherborn, MA)

I hope next month's unit focuses on something a little less slimy. Butterflies, perhaps?!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Welcome to Laughing Giraffe Books (VIDEO)

Alexandra Morrill, founder of Laughing Giraffe Books, introduces unique themed book bundles and book of the month collections designed to encourage a lifelong love of reading in children.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Strawberry Picks!

It's finally here. The short lived and highly anticipated u-pick strawberry season. My favorite early-summer activity ever since I was a child and lost one of my moccasins on a berry picking (or more precisely, eating!) excursion. In anticipation of this year's upcoming trip, I offer a compilation of all things strawberry.

  • Strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside.
  • The average strawberry has 200 seeds.
  • Strawberries are a member of the rose family
  • If all the strawberries produced in California, in one year, were laid berry to berry, they'd wrap around the world 15 times.
  • Strawberries are believed to have been cultivated in ancient Rome, in the 12th Century BC
  • A French noblewoman at the time of Napoleon, Madame Tallien, used to bathe regularly in strawberry juice.


The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, by Audrey Woods (0-4)
The delightfully amusing story of a little mouse who would do anything to protect his precious strawberry, and the big hungry bear who will go to lengths for a taste!

Jamberry, by Bruce Degen (3-6)
A boy and his bear go on a rhyming adventure through the land of berries where strawberry ponies abound, and elephants skate on raspberry jam.

Jam and Jelly by Holly and Nellie,
by Gloria Whelan (5-10)
A young girl and her mother make jam in order to save for a coat to warm the winter commute to school.

Molly and the Strawberry Day, by Pamela Conrad (4-7)
A little girls comes up with some very creative uses for the abundance of strawberries she brings home from the fields.

  • Make strawberry jam, strawberry shortcake, strawberry rhubarb pie, or chocolate dipped strawberries.
  • Plant your own strawberries in a garden, pot, or window basket. Or, use the prepackages kits sold in stores.
  • Draw a gigantic strawberry using paints, watercolors, or markers. Then, look through magazine ads to find a pair of glasses for your strawberry to wear - just like the one from "The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the The Big Hungry Bear."

You are now ready to take advantage of the fleeting u-pick strawberry season, armed with stories, fun facts and activities.  And remember, be sure to select shoes that fit firmly on your feet!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Side Stepping the Summer Slide: How to keep kids reading once the school year ends

Ahh…summer.  Trips to the beach, nights catching fireflies, BBQs and ice cream cones, and… the “summer slide”?!  This catchy phrase describes the inevitable back slide in academic achievement students experience each summer. A regression that the National Summer Learning Association has conservatively estimated to be equivalent to about 2 months of what they learned during the previous school year!  Fortunately, one of our best defenses to defeating the slide is to keep our children reading throughout the summer.
4 Suggestions to combat the “summer slide” and to keep your child reading during the summer:
                READ FOR FUN
Children spend nine months of the year focused on the technical aspects of reading. Summer is the perfect time to highlight the enjoyable side of reading.  Allow your child to read multiple stories simultaneously, revisit a favorite over and over again, or devour an easier book purely for the enjoyment of the story. Stay up late reading under the stars, in a tent, or under the sheets with a flashlight. Spend the whole of a rainy day curled up with a good book, and be OK with relegating reading to bedtime during a spectacular day. Allow your child’s interests to inform book choices- whether it’s ancient Egypt, princesses or earth worms. 

While board books, picture books and chapter books are fantastic and should be promoted at any opportunity, embrace reading in all of its forms. Books on tape are perfect for road trips, and magazines and comics are quick, enjoyable and highly motivating reads.  Pour through cook books with your children – The Barefoot Contessa and Ronald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes are equally good choices.  Even the TV with close captioning on and the volume off is a way to promote reading!

                TAP YOUR RESOURCES
Take advantage of the programs offered at your local library and book store.  Many offer story time, frequent readers programs, author visits and more. Even the act of browsing the shelves is an activity!  The air conditioning alone should provide plenty of incentive to pepper your child’s summer vacation with regular trips to the library and books store.

                THINK THEMATICALLY
Weave books into the fabric of your daily life. Read Mouse Paint and follow up with an afternoon of finger painting and color exploration. Explore the Boston Common with a copy of Make Way for Ducklings, picking out familiar landmarks from Robert McCloskey’s delightful illustrations. Read Diary of a Worm and go on a post-rain search for earthworms or Compost Stew and start a compost pile with your children. Read Holes or The Chronicles of Narnia, then watch the movie and compare. Going on a trip? Prepare by reading books that take place in that area, or focus on the landmarks or sites.

Children (and parents!) work too hard during the school year to allow 22% of it to dissipate during the summer.  Instead of drills and flash cards, come up with creative ways to make reading a part of your daily activities to encourage kids to participate and even learn to like reading. In September, your child will return to school tanned, refreshed, and exactly where they were the previous year (if not ahead!).