July 1, 2014

Middle Grade Books recommended by Maren



Hello friends! For Maren's typing practice this summer, I am making her blog with me. :) She is going to suggest books for kids, ages 9-12. I have not read all of these books, so I can't vouch for all of them, but she is really good about putting down a book if she's uncomfortable with it, so I'm guessing all these books are pretty benign.  I hope you enjoy her suggestions and find something new to read for you or your child!

(Also, I let Maren be in charge of designing her post picture, FYI)







Books for Tweens
By Guest Poster Maren


Hi! My name is Maren. I’m 11 years old and going into 6th grade. I love to read and have since I was little. I’m going to share some books with you that I think other kids will like too. All these books are good for kids my age. (This wasn’t my idea - my mom is making me do it for summer school.)


SEVEN WONDERS: THE COLOSSUS RISES by Peter Lerangis
There are many mysteries in history, and the lost city of Atlantis is one of them. In this book a logical explanation, if filled with magic and mythical creatures, is presented for the disappearance of Atlantis to 13 year old Jack McKinley, who is going to die in 6 months because of a gene he inherited from his ancestors, the rulers of the lost city of Atlantis. Kids who like sci-fi books will enjoy this book.


RUMP by Liesl Shurtliff
Everybody knows the story of Rumpelstiltskin. However, the story focuses mostly on the miller’s daughter. There is not much said about Rumpelstiltskin, leaving questions about the little man who saved the miller’s daughter at a huge price. Rump tells a traditional story from Rumpelstiltskin’s point of view. Kids who like books like The Lightning Thief or other books that add a twist to traditional myths and tales will enjoy this book.


RUBY HOLLER by Sharon Creech
Orphan twins Dallas and Florida, nicknamed the Trouble Twins, are shuttled from foster home to foster home, each home torture. Finally, Sairy and Tiller, two grandparents who needed companions for their trips to far off places, take them in temporarily.  As Dallas and Florida grow to trust Sairy and Teller, they learn what a real family is. Kids who like realistic fiction will like this book.


LAWLESS by Jeffrey Salane
When I was younger, my brothers and I would play spy, hiding in the kitchen where my mom and dad were talking, dressed in black and carrying homemade spy gadgets and ID cards. This book made me want to pull stunts like the girl in this book, an ordinary girl who attends a school for criminals. Her world is just about turned upside down when she battles for control of a device that could destroy the world and the question is raised- whose side is she on?


SKY JUMPERS by Peggy Eddleman
I have always liked books about the future, like this book. It really makes you wonder about the future- what will change, what will be the same, and what will be new. Kids who like sci-fi books and books about the future will enjoy this book.


ALCATRAZ VERSUS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS by Brandon Sanderson
In this book, Alcatraz (The boy, not the prison) is thrust into a world of magical glasses and long-lost relatives with special powers. Alcatraz is an orphan thrust upon foster family after foster family. Things tend to break when he is around, so he is never in one place for long. Kids who like Fiction will like this book, and you might not look at librarians the same again. 


THE CANDY SHOP WAR by Brandon Mull
The Candy Shop War is set in a modern, everyday town. An everyday town full of magic candy, wizards, secret treasures, and more. When 4 ordinary kids visit the new candy shop, they discover a whole new world of magic. Kids who enjoy fantasy (and candy) will enjoy this book.


That's all for now! I'll be back later in the summer (unfortunately) with more book suggestions!




June 20, 2014

Round Up of Kids Book Club Reading Activities and KBN Giveaway



One of the things kids' favorite things to do during the summer is a book club with some of their friends. We usually meet only 3 or 4 times over the course of the summer. The families take turn choosing the books. The kids like to choose a favorite book they've already read but want their friends to read. The moms plan out some activities to do with the book and we get together and play. It's lots of fun!

The KBN (or Kids Blogger Network) is hosting a giveaway that I thought y'all might be interested in entering, and we were supposed to do a round-up post along with the giveaway - so I bring you a round up of book activity ideas that you could use in a kids' book club this summer.

For younger kids:

Press Here book activity ideas from Crayon Freckles








Moosetache book activity ideas from Not Just Cute












 The Gruffalo book activity ideas from Coffee Cups and Crayons








Not A Stick book activity ideas from No Time For Flash Cards









Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs book activity














And for older kids:

Liar and Spy book club activity from Pragmatic Mom











Cam Jansen book club activity











Joyful Noise book club activity









The Borrowers from KC Edventures












Looking back to try and find book activities, I realized I never posted the activities from last year, and there were some good ones. I'll have to go back and do that. Someday.

And now for the giveaway:


Win one of three $500 cash prizes directly in your paypal account! This giveaway is open internationally. You must be 18+ years old to enter. Void where prohibited. No purchase necessary. Winners will be notified via email and have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen. Please see detailed terms and conditions below the giveaway for more info.



June 19, 2014

Top 10 Ways to Keep Kids Writing This Summer




Writing is one of those things where the more you do it, the better you get at it. (And I must write a lot because I'm such a great writer, clearly.)(and that was sarcasm there.)

Unfortunately, writing is one of those things most kids just don't like to do. I've found that if I bother the kids about spelling and grammar every time they try to write something, it just discourages them from writing more. There are some projects we do that I'm more involved in, and I show them how to revise and rewrite, but most of the kid-directed writing I just let be as it is. The kids are happier this way and my main goal is to have them enjoy writing.

A resource we have used and found success with is "Games for Writing" by Peggy Kaye. It's great for helping young kids overcome fear of writing. I suggest you check it out.

Here are some other ideas to help get kids writing:




1. Make Your Own Stationary



The kids use rubber stamps sometimes to make their own stationary. Once they've created one, I will copy it for them to create several pieces. They have really liked doing this.




2. One-a-day journal



I bought these for my oldest two at Christmas. It's easy to complete each day and asks fun questions. I love looking back at the kids answers (and so far, they don't mind me reading). They use the same journal each day for 3 years, so each year they can look back and see their previous answer and how things have changed. You can start it anytime.


3. Set up a post office

My kids love writing letters to us and each other. Once they taped envelopes to everyone's bedroom doors and used those as mailboxes. Once they cut a hole in a box and used that. The kids will take turns being the mailman and delivering the letters.


4. Get official looking seals and sealing wax



We once bought our kids letter seals and sealing wax when we visited Williamsburg. They loved them. It definitely encouraged letter writing. I told them they had to write a certain number of lines before I would use the wax to seal it. Otherwise they would just scribble a quick note or draw a smiley face. They just really liked the seals and pretending they were royalty sending important communications back and forth. Also, this makes a fun stocking stuffer at Christmas time. You can get gold wax, or sparkly glitter wax. It's fun stuff.



5. Write commercials or plays and film them

My kids love coming up with crazy things and filming them. Joshua has come up with a whole series of "Mouse and Pig" plays. He writes scripts and directs his siblings. It's fun to watch, and good writing practice.


6. Create a family newspaper

Clearly I don't worry too much about spelling and grammar when they're writing for fun


The kids like doing a weekly family newsletter. Maren usually is in charge, and she assigns her younger brothers as reporters. They each type up (or dictate to me) part of the newsletter. It's great writing practice and great family history keeping. Joshua got tired of Maren bossing him around at one point and started his own competing newspaper.


7. 15 minutes of free writing

We try to make writing a habit. During school time, we set aside 15 minutes for free writing. I give a writing prompt or story starter, but also let the kids just write about their own ideas if they have one. I don't grade spelling or grammar. The freedom to write and not worry about mistakes I think is important.


8. Create signs



My kids like to make posters and signs when they're playing. They make shops to sell things at and create posters to advertise. Maren recently created a bunch of advertisements for her new "Odd Jobs" store, complete with tear-off slips on the bottom letting the family know where she could be contacted.



9. Have them create a treasure hunt

My older kids like to create treasure hunts for the younger kids. It's fun and writing at the same time!



10. Make books



Even before my kids can write on their own, we make books together. Kids love making and reading their own books. We've done this several ways. Sometimes I've typed up what they've dictated and then they illustrate it. Sometimes we take pictures of their toys for the illustrations. Sometimes we work on it as a long project, with several revisions before it's copied by hand into a hardback blank book. Whatever way we do it, the kids are always proud of the book they've made themselves.



How do you encourage your kids to write?



This post is part of KBN's Top 10 Summer Learning Blog Hop


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June 3, 2014

Ideas for Surviving Summer at Home with the Kids



Ah summer! - lazy days by the pool, cook-outs, water fights, reading books in the shade of a tree, hearing the sweet song of children whining "I'm bored!" or "I don't want to!" or "I barely touched him!" Yeah. Sometimes Summer is not so fun.

When I have our summer days planned out, our days go so much better, with less fighting and button pushing. Here are some things we do to help smooth out the rough spots that can happen in a home-together-all-the-time family.

(All families are different, but these suggestions have worked for my kids (ages 11, 9, 7, and 4) who are all of the rough and tumble, run-around-the-house-yelling type)


Don't Give Up Having a Schedule




It can be tempting during the summer to just let the kids get up whenever they want, get dressed whenever they want, do whatever they want . . . but we don't. For the sake of our family harmony, I give my kids (young ones especially) a schedule. Kids thrive on schedules. I don't have every minute of every hour planned out, but during the summer it helps us to have a plan of how the day is going to go and I share that plan with my kids. This helps them know what to expect, and helps my child who has trouble transitioning from one activity to another.  My kids need to move the pieces on their chore charts during the day in order to be able to do fun things with the family in the afternoon. You can click the link to read more about our Summer Schedule.



Have an Incentive for Good Behavior


Sometimes my kids need a reason to get along with each other. I've found rewarding my kids for showing consideration and kindness to their siblings works better than punishing when they are mean and selfish. We often use this Lego House to encourage positive sibling relations, and we will be bringing it out again when summer starts. Another incentive that has worked well for us is this pom-pom jar.





Have an Incentive for Summer Reading


When my kids are excited about summer reading, I am guaranteed to have some QUIET in my house every once and a while during the summer.

There are free summer reading programs at libraries and bookstores, but we like to do a family one too! I love doing summer reading with my kids. I usually create summer reading coupons that they earn by reading books. They write down the book they read and receive a coupon for money (dimes and quarters, usually), or ice cream, or a new book, or a prize from the prize basket, etc . . . We do something different each year. We've done game boards, a summer beach scene, a balloon popand bookworms. The kids love seeing what we are going to do each year!

Clearly this works best with independent readers, but for my preschoolers who were just learning to read and wanted to participate, I would do a literacy activity with them and let them count it as reading a book.


Set Summer Objectives 

I get overwhelmed when I think of all the fun options there for us to do during the summer. There are so many fun ideas for summer activities and sometimes when I look around on Pinterest I feel like I'm failing as a mother if I'm not doing them all for my kids.

To overcome this, I have to focus on what I really want out of the summer. For me, I just want time with the kids. I want to do something special with each of them, so I ask them for one thing they would like to do with me during the summer. If we get that done, it's a victory.

Another thing we do is come up with a summer fun list; some people call this their summer bucket list. At the beginning of our summer, we ask the kids for ideas of what they'd like to do and we add them to a list (if they're reasonable). We try to keep our list short. Some of these things we wait and do with dad, and some we can do at home. Once upon a time, I cut up slips of paper with some of our fun items on it such as "make ice cream sandwiches" or "make lemonade". I'd put these in our "summer fun jar" and when the kids were done with school and chores in the morning, we would draw one out and do that for our afternoon activity. It worked well.


Lower Your Expectations

Life with kids is always unpredictable. Sometimes my perfectly planned activities flop. Sometimes we only get 1/2 of our summer fun list done. My house is messier and noisier during the summer. I have to remind myself to just relax and go with the flow and then we will have a much happier summer.


Limit electronic entertainment devices 

I've found that relying on electronic devices to keep my kids occupied works against me. It makes my job as a parent HARDER in the long run, not easier. This is why:

a. Those activities are self-centered activities, and my kids come out of the experience feeling more selfish than before, which results in less tolerance for siblings and more anger centered on mom/dad who made them stop the entertainment. Some kids are more susceptible to this than others. My son is a different person after he watches tv or has been playing a video game for a while. He is less cooperative and meaner to his siblings. It's crazy how much it affects him.

b. Entertainment keeps kids from wondering and thinking and imagining. With TV, video games, movies, etc . . . the thrill comes easily, without much work on the kids part. When I've been sick and/or busy and have had to rely on electronics, and my kids are used to them, coming up with ideas of things to do on their own is harder. I am a lot more likely to hear "I'm bored" from my kids when they've had too much screen time in their life. It always takes them a while to adjust back to coming up with things on their own when we get rid of the devices again.

During the summer, we try not to do screen time unless it's a special movie day, or I'm sick and need to have quiet so I can nap. But really, there are so many other fun things to do that wasting time on devices is not how we want to spend our summer!



I hope some of these thoughts will be useful in helping your family get along this summer.
How do you help things go smoothly during the summer? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments! 


This post is part of the "Summer Survival Series for Moms of Boys". All through the summer you can find tips, activities, and recipes over at "The Joys of Boys".





May 30, 2014

Scheduling Summer Days with Kids Home



Our Summer vacation is quickly approaching, and I've been thinking more about a plan of attack for keeping kids happy and making sure our home is still a pleasant place to be. One thing we do to keep things running smoothly is to keep a schedule.

I don't have every minute of every hour planned out, but during the summer it helps to plan a general idea of how the day is going to go.

I plan our days in chunks. Here's how it works for us in the summer:

Morning chunk - My kids have a checklist of things they are to complete for their "morning jobs". I give them a certain time this needs to be done by. Their tasks include: get dressed, fix hair, make bed, read scriptures 10 minutes, say prayers, eat breakfast (and clean up after yourself), brush teeth, and check bathroom to make sure it's clean.

School chunk - We continue school through the summer. We don't do a lot, but the kids need to do some math, some writing, and practicing every day. Then we alternate days doing things like typing, music theory, and nonfiction reading. There will be some days during the summer when this school chunk will consist of swim lessons and music lessons. The kids also do chores (such as laundry) if assigned.

Lunch chunk - We make lunch and clean it up together. This summer I'm looking forward to giving Maren (11) and Joshua (9) more responsibility in making lunch for the family. And they enjoy preparing meals too.

Afternoon chunk - Free time. This is where the kids get to do the "summer" stuff if they've done all their morning work and school. (If they finish their school early, they have time before lunch too.) The kids will have time to play together, create things, invent things, play with friends, and we'll probably go to the swimming pool a fair amount of time as well. I also will send my kids to their rooms for some "quiet time", usually in the later afternoon when everybody's tired and needs some time alone. This is when we will check off things from our "summer fun list" as well.

Clean-up Chunk - This is the time when the kids supposedly do chores around the house. We'll see if I can get it working this summer. I understand my kids' need to have messes, which sounds strange, but it's how I function as well. I can't create and complete a project and clean it up all in one day, and my kids' projects and plays and dress-up stories are usually not finished in one day either. I have a hard time making them clean up things that they want to continue with the next day, so I don't. We always do a big clean up on Saturday, but the rest of the week we just do little clean ups. But if there is something they are definitely done with, it gets cleaned up.

Dinner Chunk (around 6)- same as lunch

Nighttime Chunk - Daddy is home (hopefully) and we have time to play together more during the summer. The kids have later bedtimes than during the school year and I'm looking forward to having more time being together as a family.

Having chunks rather than set times makes it easy to adjust things when conflicts come up. If we have something else going on in the morning, we just move the school chunk to later in the day, or get rid of it. We can be flexible like that.

How do you schedule your summer days?

May 14, 2014

Book Activity: Too Many Frogs

Yesterday, to celebrate Children's Book Week, we sat down and read the book "Too Many Frogs" by Sandy Asher.



In this book, Rabbit is just about to sit down to read himself a book when the doorbell rings and Froggy comes in out of the rain to listen, uninvited. Each night Froggy comes back, and causing more fuss in Rabbit's quite house; getting comfy-cozy with pillows, and making himself a snack . . . or three. The last night he comes with his whole frog family to enjoy the story, and Rabbit just can't stand it any longer. He tells Froggy to leave, but as he sits down to read himself a story, he realizes something is missing. He's just not enjoying it as he used to, and he invites Froggy back in. It's a fun story, and the kids really like it.

To start our activity, we decided to try some "knock-knockety-knocking" on the door, like Froggy does every time he comes to Rabbit's house. The boys came up with lots of ways to do this. We first played where one player was on one side of the door and the other player knocked on the door. The player on the other side of the door would knock back the same rhythm. We next got out our drums and rhythm sticks and took turns playing rhythms and copying rhythms. This play kind of snowballed and we ended up walking around the house tapping on things with our rhythm sticks and seeing what different sounds things made. Joshua discovered the rungs on our chairs made different pitches depending on how long or short they were. Christopher discovered that metal made a more ringing sound than wood. Nathan discovered that dirty clothes don't make much of a sound at all. This didn't really have anything to do with the book, but we just let the play lead us and I loved listening to the boys' ideas.

We decided to do as Froggy does and make ourselves a snack (or three) to go along with listening to a book. Christopher was in charge of popcorn. Joshua made a strawberry milkshake. Nathan passed out cheese and crackers.



We drank the milkshakes in the kitchen, because I'm not that brave. Then we got all comfy cozy in our family room and the boys ate popcorn while I read a couple of chapters from "Bunnicula" by Deborah and James Howe.

We had a lot of fun with "Too Many Frogs".

May 13, 2014

Book Recommendations from Bloggers


I’m loving reading about your favorite books this week in the comments of the Surprise Book Giveaway!  Here are some favorite books from blogger friends to add to your list of books to get at the library.

For Younger Readers:


Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus
George and the Dragon by Chris Wormell


My Truck is Stuck by Kevin Lewis


Peepo by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Each Peach, Pear, Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg


Hiccupotamus by Aaron Zenz
The Monster Who Lost His Mean by Tiffany Haber


Z is for Moose by Paul O. Zelinsky
Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea


For Older Readers:



Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart


In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau

Demon Dentist by David Walliams

There are some here I've already put on hold at the library. Thanks for sharing all!




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