May 15, 2015

New Book Spotlight: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage

I'm happy to participate today in a cover reveal for a new book coming out in September, "Fires of Invention" by J. Scott Savage. 

fires of invention by J. Scott Savage

This is a fun start to a new middle grade series. A bit about the book from the publisher: 

"STEAMPUNK! Plus Dragons!
Trenton Colman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and "invention" is a curse word. Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, whose father died in an explosion-an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity.

Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlikely anything they've ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on-and quite possibly their very lives."

The book reminded me a lot of City of Ember in the beginning, but the book soon began to take it's own twists and turns. And although I'm usually pretty good at predicting the way a story will go, I was pretty surprised at some of the secrets revealed. Here's a note from the author about what inspired him to write this story: 

J. Scott Savage, Fires of Invention

"Like many of my books, the inspiration for my new series Fires of Invention came from the collision of two ideas. The first time the story occurred to me was while I was watching the musical Wicked with my wife. The moment I walked into the theater and saw the huge mechanical dragon above the stage, I thought, Wow! I have to write a story about that! A few weeks later, I was talking with my nephew, who is probably the most creative kid I know, but whose inventiveness often gets him into trouble, and I thought, What if a kid who had the talents of my nephew lived in a world where creativity was against the law? What if the kids were building . . . a steam-powered dragon? Bam! I had my story.

Powered by great feedback from my agent, Michael Bourret, my good friend and author James Dashner, my publisher, Chris Schoebinger, and the song “Warriors” by Imagine Dragons, I wrote the entire first draft of the first volume in the series, Mysteries of Cove in four weeks. This book is unlike anything I have ever written. There are elements of City of Ember, Dragon Riders, and Hugo in it all mashed up together in a world I fell in love with from the moment I started writing.

I think what’s most exciting to me about this book is that it’s about giving yourself the freedom to imagine. To take chances. Too often we limit ourselves by only trying things we’re confident we can succeed at when what we need to do is give ourselves permission to fail. Often it is when we attempt things with no idea of how we can possibly pull them off that we achieve our greatest successes."

Sounds pretty good, eh? Unfortunately the book doesn't come out until the end of September, but you can always preorder. Your kids will love this exciting start to a new series! 

*I was provided with a free copy of the book to review. All opinions are my own. 

April 24, 2015

Why I Bribe My Kids

I bribe my children. I give them money and prizes to do things I'd like them to do and it's worked out really well for us. Before you call me a terrible mom, here are the reasons I do.

Bribing as a parenting tool

Kids respond to rewards and punishments. Yes, I'd like them to eventually move past this so that they do things for intrinsic reasons, but for now my children are at the stage of life where there actions are very much a product of the punishments and rewards offered them, especially when it comes to doing hard things.

When I bribe my kids to do something, they know it's really important to me. Every summer I bribe my kids to read. We do a summer reading chart every year where they earn prizes, and their grandma also gives them a chart to fill out and she pays them $20 when it's full. My kids know reading is very important to us.

But in the process of doing all that reading during the summer to win those prizes, my kids gain a love of reading. The more they read, the easier it gets, and the more enjoyable it becomes. So even though their reading began as a way to get those prizes (a very behavioristic approach), they now see the value of it and read a lot of books on their own, without prizes.

Here are some of the things I have bribed my kids to do (and usually I just like to call them incentives):

1. read
2. practice instruments
3. learn how to play hymns on the piano
4. memorize scriptures
5. perform in front of people (when they weren't comfortable doing so)
6. treat siblings kindly and serve each other
7. have good table manners

These things are important to me and I feel like giving them an extra incentive to do these things, other than "because mom and dad said so", gives them the push they need.

Here is a list of do's and don'ts when bribing your kids:

1. Don't bribe for good behavior, expect good behavior

As a young mom taking my 5, 3 and 1 year old to the grocery store by myself, I would often bribe my kids with a cookie afterward or a ride on the mechanical horse if they would stay close to me and not scream and throw fits, and honestly I don't feel too bad about that because I was trying to stay sane and that's what it took. But now there is nothing that drives me crazier than hearing my kids ask "If we're good at the grocery store can we have a treat?" or "If we're good at the clothing store can we go to the toy store?" And I tell them "No. You will be good because that is how I expect you to behave in public places." I have learned to have higher expectations, and if they misbehave they know there will be consequences.

2. Bribes should be short term offers

Bribes give kids an extra push to help them do something they are reluctant to do or forget to do, but once the goal has been achieved or the habit started the outward incentive should stop. Then the kids will hopefully continue to keep the behavior for intrinsic reasons. When the kids were little we had a list of table manners and the kids earned stickers at each meal for good behavior. When the charts were filled up and the rewards claimed, we no longer continued that incentive but expected the kids to have good table manners just because. And actually they have terrible table manners. But we're still working on it.

3. Bribes should not happen all the time

There's nothing more annoying then a child who thinks they should always get a reward when he does something. My kids have been guilty of this. And it annoys me. That's when I know I need to cut back on the incentives.

4. It's okay for bribes to be child specific

When Joshua was little he was terrified of performing in front of other people. Whenever the children at church would stand up in the front to sing a song for their parents, he would refuse to go up. The children at church perform a special program every year and he always refused to go up and participate. Then one year when he was 6 I thought he would finally get up. He had practiced with them and had told me he was going to do it, but when it was time to go up he freaked out and refused. I was not going to make him get up there, but I offered him $5 to just go up and try. That was enough of an incentive to push him past his fear and get on stage.

His sister was also up on there performing, and she did not get $5 to participate, and she probably didn't think that was fair. It gave us an opportunity to talk about how life is not fair and different people have different needs. He needed a push, she didn't. Sometimes it will be the other way around.

Ever since he got over his initial fear he has thrived being on stage and performed in several plays. I'd say that $5 was a great investment.

5. Beware of Bribes for things the kids have no control over

Don't bribe kids for things they can't control. If you want them to be in a play, give them an incentive to try out, but don't make it dependent on whether or not they get the part. They can't control that. Same goes with sports. It doesn't make sense to bribe a child to score a goal when that child may asked by the coach to focus more on defense. Give incentives to help your child push themselves and get out of their comfort zones but not for specific achievements that are not in their control.

So Does It Work?

Yes. Well, I think it does. My goal in bribing the kids is to encourage them to learn things and do things that I think are important and hope that they will continue to do it once the bribe is over. And I've been thinking about the bribes I give my kids because of an experience that happened this past week.

Music has always been very important to me and I wanted my kids to experience how uplifting church music can be when we play it. Last summer I told the kids that for every hymn they learned to play on the piano I would give them $5. Joshua has been the most responsive to this bribe. He has since passed off 9 songs and earned himself $45. We won't continue this bribe forever since the hymns won't be as much of a challenge as his skills improve, but for now it's working well. One day this past week he came home from school kind of grumpy. After letting him have some time to himself (this boy needs space sometimes)  I asked him how his day had been. He said he had been feeling grumpy, but then he went and played some hymns on the piano and music always made him feel better, so he was doing okay now.

Hallelujah! I tell you that $45 was worth every penny. It brought tears to my eyes when he said that.

So there are my thoughts on bribes and parenting. What do you think? Do you bribe your kids?

April 22, 2015

"How to Throw a Party" Tween Birthday Party

This year for Maren's birthday, we decided to throw a "How to Throw a Party" party. The girls had a lot of fun with the activities!

Fun ideas for a tween girl birthday party!

I had originally planned on a three hour party, including lunch and time for just hanging out. But it turned out there were several events occurring I had forgotten about and we had to condense it into two hours. So I'm going to include the other ideas for the party that we had, even though we didn't get around to doing them all, but maybe you will.

I like to have an open-ended craft activity going when the kids arrive so that there's something to do while we wait for everyone to come. For this party the girls decorated their party favor bags with markers and foam stickers.

Once all the girls were together, we ate lunch. We had turkey croissant sandwiches, raspberries, chips, and pink lemonade. We also sang to Maren and ate her birthday cake.

tween girl birthday cake

Now one activity I cut out because of time was having the girls decorate our house for the party. I was planning on putting them in pairs, handing them streamers, balloons, and painters tape, and letting them go crazy. I thought that would have been a fun start to the party, but alas, no time.

For our first activity, I taught the girls how to twist balloons. The girls LOVED this activity. I had blown up a lot of balloons before the party started (because this takes a lot of time) and showed the girls how to make a sword, a helmet, and a flower. I used a Klutz balloon twisting book for the project ideas.   Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but buying it used is a good option just so you have the instructions. And you'll need some good quality twisting balloons - the Qualetex 2x60 inch are the best.

twisting balloons at a tween girl birthday party
making helmets

After we twisted balloons, we came back to the tables to make our party favors - wishing bracelets. The idea behind these is that you make a wish when you tie it around your wrist and then your wish will come true when it falls off.

making wish bracelets at a tween girl birthday party

Next was the girls' favorite part of the party - cake decorating! I made 15 six-inch cakes  (just one layer) and frosted them. I had seen on other blogs the idea for glueing a glass plate to a glass candlestick holder from the dollar store to make a cute little cake stand. I could not find such things at our dollar store, and so instead I hot-glued a plastic plate to a plastic bowl to make cute little cake stands. They were not reusable, or perfectly sturdy, but they worked well enough and made the cakes seem a bit more special.

cakes ready to decorate at a tween girl's birthday party!

To start, I showed the girls how to hold the bags and pipe with two different kinds of tips - the straight tip and the star tip. I showed them how to do stars and scallops. I had pre-filled a bunch of bags with colored frosting, closed tight with rubber bands, and let the girls go crazy. I also had a bunch of colored sixlets the girls used to decorate. They had a lot of fun decorating and I was quite impressed with their work.

decorating cakes at a tween girl birthday party

The other thing we were going to do but did not have time was to let the girls come up with games. We were going to divide them into teams, let them draw a slip of paper with a party theme written on it, and have a bunch of random supplies they could use to come up with a game to fit their theme. Then we were going to play the games they came up with. But there was no time.

Finally, the girls collected a party bag and went home. The party bags included 5 disposable frosting bags, one of the piping tips (I just cut them off the bags and washed them real quick. They got to choose if they wanted a star or straight tip), a little bag of colored sixlets, some extra twisting balloons, their wish bracelet, some nerds (because Maren likes them), and then they took their cake home as well.

party favors at a tween girl birthday party

All in all it was a success! The girls had a lot of fun (and some even took up a hobby in balloon twisting).