Saturday, May 20, 2017

Take a Summer Reading Challenge!


Looking for a way to encourage your children to read more this summer? Here are some ideas-  

·     Check out the summer reading program at your local public library

·     Visit to join the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

·     Choose a theme and read a variety of books based on that theme (sports, history, animals, etc.)

·    Explore different genres of literature (Visit this blog for a great list!

·    Join Barnes and Noble’s summer challenge (and earn a free book!!)

·     Search reading bingo ideas on Pinterest

·    Explore the bookshelves at your local library with this challenge-

·    Enjoy these book related activities at

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Let’s Play!

My son asked me to play this week. Now I am good at playing games with them. I can read aloud and color, do puzzles and shoot hoops. But play? He was asking me to engage in his imaginary story and become part of that world. And I froze. I am embarrassed to admit that I truly didn’t know how to respond. It was so easy to play along when they were little–have a tea party, drive big trucks, rock the baby doll… But as they have aged and their stories have become more complex, I realized that I had stopped playing with my kids. Is our imagination like a muscle? Can it atrophy? I was truly lost when I only had my imagination to lean on. Needless to say, this bothered me terribly, and after our rousing time of bomber planes and army soldiers ended, I began to contemplate the value of knowing how to play.
In a world of screens and noise, imaginary play often takes a back seat. This great gift, that is always with us and doesn’t require batteries, is often not exercised to its fullest potential. I realized that because I had not been using my imagination, I didn’t have much of one to use. My children on the other hand, can fill hours with a story line based on trains, animals and houses (like the one that covered my living room floor not too many days ago!). Is this something they could lose? A skill that can be forgotten?
I recognize that the way they play and imagine will change as they grow, but I cannot help thinking about some of the great creators in our world- authors, designers, problem solvers…are they good at what they do because they have not stifled their ability to imagine? They can imagine a solution, imagine a story with amazing characters, imagine a design to meet a need. They use the same creative muscle to do these things, that my children are using when they play. I want to encourage and develop that ability as much as I can…even when it means that I have to learn to play all over again.

Ponder a Picture

I have a challenge for you–stop and look, look around you. What do you see? So often we are in such a hurry that we do not actually see what is right in front of us. This was driven home to me this week, in the dentist’s office of all places. Our family was visiting a new dentist for our six-month cleanings and I spent a good bit of time in the one room as he worked with both of my children. Near the end of the visit, my son had to cooperate for an uncomfortable procedure that would last for two minutes. As I was scrambling to distract his mind from the large piece of equipment in his mouth I blurted out, “Hey, bud, look at that picture! What story does it tell you?” Now, I had been ‘staring’ at that same picture for the past hour, but as we actually looked at it and I pointed out unique elements of it for him to think about, it dawned on me that I hadn’t really seen it at all.

How often does this happen to us? Maybe it is a teachable moment or a memorable experience; perhaps it is a beautiful view or my daughter’s smile…what “pictures” am I staring at every day, without really seeing them? Not only do I often miss what is right in front of me, but I have not been intentional about teaching my children to “see” life either. Things are not slowing down; life is not getting simpler. I want to train my children to see past the busyness and pause to ponder what is right in front of them. Several ideas have come to mind as I thought how to do this. First, I want to demonstrate through example. I want them to see me gasping in awe at a beautiful sunset, or relishing the view of the snow on the hills. I want to point out unique architecture and the intricacies of God’s creation. I want to look them in the eye and hear their inflections while they speak to me. I want them to learn from me. But I think we can tangibly teach this skill of “looking to see” as well. Challenge your child to study a photo or painting for one minute and then discuss what he/she notices about the picture. Encourage him to write a story about that moment which is frozen in time. (Norman Rockwell’s paintings are perfect for this!) When driving, ask your children to list five adjectives or adverbs that describe the sky that day. Have them close their eyes in a busy room and describe what they hear. Play a game where you have them walk into a room, look around for a moment, and then leave again. Remove an object from view or move it to a different location. Can they spot the difference when they reenter the space? (This is especially fun to do in a room of your own house where everything becomes so common we tend to overlook it.) There are many ways to teach our children to “see” what is before them. I challenge you to stop and look, and train your children to do so also!

As Different as the Snowflakes

It is snowing today–a lazy, slow snowfall, with tiny little snowflakes. The last time it snowed the flakes came down as huge, wet globs, quickly coating everything in sight. Not only are there many different kinds of snowfalls, but each individual snowflake is different. This scientific fact has never ceased to amaze me! How creative God is to design millions and millions of different flakes.
Yet, how often do we stop and think about how each person–each child–is different as well? God has designed each of us with unique interests, learning styles, abilities, and purposes. Even within the same family, siblings can be very different from one another. My son is a verbal/kinesthetic learner; whereas my daughter tends to be more visually driven. One is very social; the other craves solitary time.
Many wonderful books and internet articles have been written on the variety of learning styles and how to incorporate those styles into our teaching. It is easy for me to fall into the rut of teaching my children with my own personal learning and communication styles. Although some good can come from this, I must determine how their minds best process information and utilize those methods also.  It is important as we work with our children to remember these unique characteristics exist and find ways to incorporate them into our teaching times.

Falling in Love with Books Though Our Ears

I was reading aloud to my children at breakfast this morning and one of my favorite things happened. As my son was munching on his cinnamon toast, the plot built to a suspenseful climax. As I used my voice to express the tension of the moment, I happened to glance across the table. There sat my nine-year-old boy, as still as a statute, with mouth gaping and toast hanging from his fingertips, completely enthralled with what was happening in the story. I continued to read, but my heart smiled and shouted a huge “Gotcha!” He was hooked.
One of my favorite things about oral reading and audio books is the way that our minds engage while we listen to the story. The characters and settings come alive as we hear them being described, hear different character voices, sense the speed and tension changes of the plot and hold our breath until the climax comes to a conclusion. Although much of the same can be said for silent reading, it often seems that involving more of our senses allows us to imagine the story in a deeper way.
Because of our family’s ministry, we are on the road a lot. We have all come to love audio books. Often one of the first questions our children ask when we get in the car is “What story do we get to listen to this time?” Not only do these books help the time to pass quickly, they generate great family discussions, expose our children to people, situations and places outside of themselves and  provide hours of fun and entertainment.

There are so many great resources available for audio books, I cannot even begin to name them all. However, I would like to share some of my favorite sources with you and encourage you to provide this style of book for your children. Whether it is at home or in the car, audio books can open up a whole new love of stories for your family.

  • Your public library- We have enjoyed using this resource ever since the kids were little. From picture books to chapter books, your public library will have many options for you to choose from.
  •  Overdrive- This is a resource that is also available through your public library. I have used it with my kindle for a long time, but I just recently discovered that I can download audio chapter books onto my kindle too. This has been great for long trips!
  • – We offer many of our books in audio format (both CD and MP3), including the Great Musicians Series and The Shining Sword. One great way to use these (especially with a reluctant reader) is to allow them to follow along in the books as they listen. 
  • – This is my husband’s favorite source for audio books. Although there is a fee for some of the books offered on this site, all public domain books are free. Many of the wonderful classics are available to download.

History in the Making

As I contemplated the coming election and the events surrounding it, I realized that the last time a new person was elected to the office of president, my daughter wasn't even born and my son was only 2 years old?!? Somehow it seems impossible that life could go by so quickly! 

This election season provides us with a great opportunity to teach our children so many things- the privilege we have to vote for our nation's leaders, exploring the election process,  learning the story of other U. S. presidents, tracking the election results... the list is endless. So often these conversations are much more meaningful when the events are actually taking place. This election will become part of our children's life history - let's make it memorable.

Learning Through Exposure (Appreciating Classical Music Part 2)

Some people say that classical music is archaic and has no relevance for the youth of today. Is this true? Are we wasting our time exposing children to this age-old genre? I would like to encourage you to recognize the value of classical music, regardless of the age or interests of the listener. Classical music has the potential to engage both the heart and mind of a child and propel them towards a greater interest in the things around them.  
In our last blog we discussed introducing our children to classical music through EXAMPLE and EXPERIENCES. This week we will talk about introducing our children to classical music through EXPOSURE.

Expose your child by using all of the senses to incorporate classical music into his environment.

1.  There are many wonderful CD collections with a variety of composers and musical selections. Look for ways to incorporate them into your daily life. Allow classical music to be part of your child’s environment–something they are comfortable with, something that is normal. They will absorb more that you realize!
  • Have the music playing softly in the background while your children are playing, coloring, reading, or even during handwriting or study time.
  • Choose a specific song to play during cleanup time or while everyone is getting ready for bed. Can they be done before the song finishes? Have fun and do it playfully

2.  There are also a wide variety of DVDs available that encourage classical music enrichment. (Your local library is an excellent source for these.) 
  • Baby Einstein is a good resource for introducing little ones to classical music,
  • Little Einstein is a favorite at our house (although I am selective about which ones they watch). I was listening to some classical music one day and my son (who was six at the time) got all excited. “Mom, that’s on Little Einsteins! You know the part where they….” and he was right. He recognized the melody and it stuck in his mind because he had a memory link to it.

3.  Another idea that might make you chuckle (but you will realize I am right) is watching the old cartoons (Tom and Jerry, Road Runner, Bugs Bunny etc…) and westerns. The sound tracks for these old shows were often classical music scores. Children will begin to sense tempo and musical mood changes as they listen to the music communicate the stories. Another example of this is from the Lone Ranger. When my children were small, I would bounce them on my knee and hum the theme song to the Lone Ranger (which is actually The William Tell Overture). Whenever they would hear that music played, they would get all excited “The horsie song, Mama! It’s the horsie song!” Again, they had a point of reference for remembering this music. It was familiar to them. It was part of their world! 

4.  One of the most powerful ways you can create an appreciation for classical music is by taking your children to a live concert. There is nothing that can compare to the feeling you have as the music plays around you. The way you want to stand to your feet as the music crescendos. The feast for your eyes and ears as you watch the orchestra members perform this musical feat. Many larger cities have a professional symphonic orchestra. Often times these orchestras will host a children’s concert geared primarily to the little ones in the audience, but a regular concert is a special treat as well. Open air concerts or symphonic band concerts are often a more relaxed atmosphere, great for little ones with lots of wiggles or those just being introduced to classical concerts. You may not have a regularly performing orchestra where you live, however, there are other options. 
  • Do you have a local college with a music program? Student musicians are required to have a senior recital, which is a great opportunity for families to enjoy a concert.
  • Perhaps you could schedule a concert performance into your next family vacation?
  • Many times local churches will host classical concerts. Do some research in your area and see what is available. You might be surprised.
  • There are many books and DVDs that will expose your child to the symphony orchestra, classical music performances, ballets and operas, as well as performers and instruments. Contact your local librarian for these resources. (The internet can also be a tremendous resource for songs, movies, and classical music information.) Take advantage of all the resources you can.

5.  You could use upbeat music to help your child use up some extra energy. 
  • Have the kids move to the music. If it is a slow song, the kids move around the room slowly, stomping, twirling or stepping in slow motion. Then when the music tempo speeds up, so do the kids. They love to run around the room as fast as they can, jumping, skipping, racing, and just being active. (You could also do a version of this with drawing or painting. Have the child draw what they hear. Should they color fast? Slow? Jagged lines? Circles? What colors do they “hear” in the music?)