Tag Archives: books

Going to the Zoo Through Play and Books

Our play zoo!

My little gal V has a stuffed animal collection that I’ve worked to limit since she joined our family a little over two years ago.  I have put out the word to curtail gift giving of fluffy friends since year one.  Still, in addition to the 10 or so that accompany her to bed every night, we have a pet net (remember these from the 80’s…I saved mine) and a large Rubbermaid bin full of the little friends.

So it came to me one day that we had a full-on menagerie living in our house and we might introduce that element into some pretend play.  In a bored moment, V and I pulled out all the stuffed friends and decided to make a zoo.

We grouped the animals into area by type (birds, bugs, jungle animals, farm animals, dogs, elephants, etc.).  It came to me that this activity actually is a great one for helping kids sort and categorize objects by similarities or differences (kind of like the Sesame Street activity:  “One of these things is not like the other; one of these things doesn’t belong.  Can you guess which thing is not like the other before I finish this song…”).

Sitting amidst our pretend zoo, we decided to read some zoo related stories which I’ve listed for you below.  I know this is a simple activity, but it’s something to take up some time on a rainy fall day when you are at a loss for what might keep your toddler/preschooler occupied.

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle:  This book involves physical motion that is sure to get your little one moving and mimicking animal actions.

123 to the Zoo by Eric Carle:  This is a wordless counting book; your little ones can practice their animal identification and counting skills as they look at the colorful illustrations.

Zoo Parade by Harriet Ziefert and Simms Taback:  This rhythmic story has been a favorite in our house for a while.  We used to use animal puppets while reading it aloud.  The rhymes and sounds of the story will have you chanting along…”What kind of walking will you do today?”  V loves this one and so do I; I think I have much of it committed to memory!

And to bring a little fun sing-a-long into your play, remember you can always sing “Mama’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow” with Raffi!

Enjoy your zoo play and make good use of the mountain of stuffed animals in your home!


Summer Days and Autumn Nights: Good Reads for Any Season

Nonfiction:

Last Child in the Woods  by Richard Louv:  I recommend all educators and parents of young children read this and support the Children and Nature Network online.  This title has been out for a while, but as the parent of a young child, it touched me in a way that I previously would not have experienced.  It is so important for the health and well-being of our children that we continue to find ways to connect them to nature; Last Child in the Woods explores this topic and offers suggestions for a mentally, emotionally, and physically healthier group of young people.

The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka:  although I probably skimmed through a bit of the architectural metaphors, I really appreciated the overall message of this positive, constructive book on making change in your life.  I found Susanka to have a refreshing voice and I think her workbook/journaling activities might be very helpful to those folks looking to get unstuck and find a new perspective on life.

The Out of Sync Child Has Fun:  Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.:  I checked out this book to find some activities and ideas to help my little one, who has experienced some isolated sensory challenges.  Though she has not been diagnosed as having SPD, I felt that exposure to some of the sensory activities would be helpful in building her comfort level with touching different textures.  I think this book has some great activities and I probably will have to purchase a used copy as I have to return it to the library before having an opportunity to fully test them.  Having some limited experience with other special needs children, I do know that sensory play can be a positive and therapeutic activity and recommend this as a supplementary experience for kids with SPD and other sensory challenges.

Fiction:

The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell:  This book is over a decade old, but I am just discovering the Kurt Wallander series.  Apparently, my thing lately is Swedish mysteries.  Mankell’s Wallander struggles to come to terms with a loss in his life while attempting to solve a series of related murders.  Wallander must understand the motivation of the killer before the next brutal death.  I enjoyed reading this psychological thriller and will be looking for other books in the series at the library.

Currently on my bookshelf:

A Trick of the Light:  a Chief Inspector Gamache novel by Louise Penny

A Covert Affair:  Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS by Jennet Conant

The Tempus History of Wales by Prys Morgan

Under the Tuscan Sun by Francis Mayes (re-reading because I LOVE it so much!)

 


Learning and Loving to Read

One of the great gifts my mother gave me is a voracious love of reading.  She read aloud to me from an early age, took me to libraries and book sales, and always made sure I had plenty of reading material available to me.  As adults, she and I swap books and recommendations; whenever I return to my home state to visit, I nearly always come home with one or more books.

It was no surprise to anyone when I married a man with a love of books that rivals my own.  Anyone who has moved us during one of our 12+ moves can attest to the extensiveness of our personal library.  Currently, we have reduced our load down to five overstuffed bookshelves, some boxes in closets and the basement, and several baskets full of books throughout our house.  Books are in every room…usually even in the laundry room as I stack piles to be returned to the library.

V “reading” her books at 11 months old.

As the child of two avid readers, our daughter V was exposed to books starting in the womb, as her parents read aloud “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” groaning at the inept literary references and cackling at the goofy zombie antics.  We now find it funny that at age two she selects this particular book off of our bedroom shelf and carries it through the house, looking at pictures of “zomies.”  Though she will be formally introduced to Jane Austen before we let her read this book, I don’t think it is chance that she is drawn to this story.  She’s heard it before.

There are many reasons why I personally believe that reading is critical to life.  Reading introduces you to experiences, people, places that you might not otherwise encounter.  It can help develop a sense of understanding of difference and empathy for others.  It can facilitate critical thinking and open up the mind and heart.  For me, reading can comfort, motivate, empower, engage, explain, teach, and enrich my world.  There are many reasons to read and many ways to promote reading in your children’s lives as well.

Some of the ways we expose V to the written word are as follows:

-We have baskets of face out books around the house.  She has one basket of books that are currently seasonal/interesting to her by her bed.  Another basket near her bed is full of library books.  When it gets quiet, I know to look for her snuggled on her pillows flipping through stories.

-We started attending library programs at age 8 weeks old. She knows our children’s librarian by name and feels very comfortable in the local library space.

-We make a weekly library trip.  At the library, I select a combination of books that match her current learning interests.  If she’s all about bugs that week, I get every book I can find on bugs.  If she loves Mo Willems books, we stack a giant pile on the counter.

-We read books over and over again.  She picks from the selections available to her and we read them, sometimes ad nauseum.  She easily commits her favorites to memory and can recite them back to us while turning pages, proudly saying “I read it my big self!”

-We read to her during potty training; we have mini books in the diaper bag for waiting at restaurants and doctor’s offices; we bring books during car rides…even short ones.

-We have an entire bin of books on CD and tape next to our stereo system in the living room and play them throughout the day.  When she gets bored, instead of the TV, I offer her a recorded story when I am busy with housework.  She can play her books on tape by herself and we are teaching her how to gently handle the CDs so she can play those as well. (Note:  you can pick these up cheaply at garage sales, online or from library or community book sales.)

-We have a comfortable reading nook near her books on tape and sensory bins.  There are pillows and a blanket in her nook.  A box near her nook includes books that tie in with the themed sensory bins stacked beside it.  For example:  we have books on dinosaurs in the box and a dinosaur sensory bin that she can explore while in her nook. I rotate titles in the sensory bin reading box.

-I pull out seasonal titles to read as the year progresses.  For example: as Halloween approaches, I go through all our shelves and pull related titles to put in spots where V tends to sit and read.  If they are handy, she’ll choose them.  This keeps our selection fresh and helps with learning about seasons, holidays, and related thematic activities.

-We tie in art projects, museum trips, nature walks and projects, and science projects with the books we are reading.

-We connect her TV viewing with reading.  We read books about familiar characters she encounters on the DVDs we watch with her:  Curious George, Dora the Explorer, Diego, Little Einsteins, Winnie the Pooh, some Disney characters.  When she is interested in a topic from a show like Sid the Science Kid, we find books about the topic (example: we found books on weather and posted a weather chart).  When we read about a topic like bugs, we find non-fiction kid oriented documentaries at the library for her to view (like MicroCosmos or Stargazer). We limit her TV viewing.

-We read every night at bedtime.  Sometimes we read books that are well above her age level, like the Magic Tree House series.  She loves the one about knights and we just finished the one about the ice age and sabertooth tigers.  This helps her build her vocabulary and also stretches her ability to attend to a book with limited pictures.  She fell asleep more than once to a DK early reader about knights; this was a topic that fascinated her for a while.

-We have a busy bag basket filled with literacy activities that she can select as part of self-directed play.  There is a wipe board and dry erase markers for printing letters (she can manage some letters at 2 years of age); there are textured flashcards and magnetic letter boards for her to touch and explore.  We do not drill her on letters or words but answer questions or play with her at her request.  Based on the reading I have done on the topic, I do not recommend pressuring toddlers and preschoolers with flashcards and workbook literacy activities.

-We have a chalkboard where we select a letter of the alphabet and write down all the words we can think of that begin with the chosen letter.  V loves to brainstorm the words with us now that she is older and it is great to see how her vocabulary is developing.

-V also accompanies her writer parents to poetry and fiction readings where she sees us read our written work; I hope this will make a big impression on her and empower her to explore her own stories as she matures.

There are so many ways to help children explore and enjoy reading.  In our house, we like to keep it fun and interest-based so that V will crave more words and more literacy experiences.  While she may turn out to have different reading interests that her father and I, I hope that she will always feel comfortable with books and using books to further her life-long learning.

Here are some wonderful resources that I have recently read about promoting literacy in children.  I hope you take the time to check out one or all of them.  Give the Read Aloud Handbook as a gift to teachers or principals or to a new parent.  There is no telling what can happen when you give the gift of reading to a person in your life.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

Raising Bookworms:  Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment by Emma Walton Hamilton

Raising a Reader:  A Mother’s Tale of Desperation and Delight by Jennie Nash


Hot Novels in the Summertime

(photo by PML)

The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson:

The first novel in the Inspector Ann Lindell series, The Princess of Burundi explores the death of a reformed criminal turned family man who was found murdered. I am enjoying this Swedish series as a small window into modern Swedish culture and life and also because the main character, Ann Lindell is a new, working mom, trying to figure out herself as a mother.  She doesn’t strike a conventional balance, and I find that her character’s struggle to pave her own way is very believable.  Eriksson is becoming one of my go-to mystery authors; someone I can count on to provide an interesting and enjoyable tale.

The Lady and the Poet by Maeve Haran:

This well-researched historical novel explores the romantic relationship of poet John Donne and Ann More. I found it a very enjoyable read.  I think Haran did a great job showing the options and struggles of women in that time period, and how difficult, if not entirely impossible, it was to marry for love.  The strong Ann More is a character you can’t help but love, as John Donne discovered for himself!  And this story makes me want to go read Donne’s work with a fresh perspective.

The Midwife’s Tale by Gretchen Moran Laskas:

This story of three generations of West Virginian midwives, of love in its many forms, and of loss and healing was so wonderfully crafted.  The sense of place, the smooth, graceful prose, and the carefully crafted main character, Elizabeth demonstrate why Gretchen Laskas was selected as this year’s recipient of the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award.  While this story contains “romantic” elements, I found I was more moved by the mother-daughter relationships. The connection between the generations of women in The Midwife’s Tale is so well-written and poignant.  As the mother of a daughter, I felt Laskas really captured the complex love that exists in that relationship.  She writes about how we differentiate ourselves from our mothers with our choices, about the ways we find our mothers in ourselves through growing and understanding their experiences as we move through life, and about how the love between mothers and daughters can change and heal. I can’t wait to hear Laskas speak in the fall during the Appalachian Heritage Writer-In-Residence program.    

How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life by Mameve Medwed:

A cute read; this romance is a light, modern, summer-appropriate tale about an antiques dealer who has been unlucky in love. Any fans of the chick-lit genre will enjoy!

Got any recommends for fun summer reading?  Feel free to share in the comment section below or on TheRippleEffect2009 Facebook page!


Celebrating America’s Independence: Flags, Fireworks and Reading Fun for Toddlers

Hot summer days are officially here.  With the temperature soaring to the upper 90′s today and the 4th of July approaching, I decided that it would be a great day to teach V about America’s Independence Day celebration.  Together, we read some stories and created some simple, kid-friendly crafts to celebrate the 4th of July holiday.

Two books that guided our learning experience are:

The Story of America’s Birthday by Patricia A. Pingry

and

The Story of The Star-Spangled Banner by Patricia A. Pingry

American Flag Craft

Together we made an American flag out of paper and paints.

Materials:

Red, white, and blue construction paper, scissors, Elmer’s Glue, white tempura paint, paintbrushes

Instructions:

I cut 6 strips of white construction paper and a blue rectangle of construction paper in advance.  I also lined them up in proper American flag order with the red stripe starting at the top of the flag and thirteen stripes total showing.  Line up the white stripes on a piece of red construction paper, creating alternating stripes starting and ending with red and having approximately equal spacing.  Have your child apply Elmer’s glue and affix the stripes to the construction paper.  Then, have your child glue the blue rectangle in the upper left corner of your flag.  Let them create white stars on the blue corner with white tempura paint.  Another option is to have them use silver foil star stickers (the kind that teachers use for grading) and apply them to the blue rectangle.

Firework Paintings

Materials:

Red, white, blue, yellow (and any other color) tempera paints,  (We especially like to use sparkly ones!)  paintbrushes, and black construction paper.

Instructions:

Let your child free paint their version of sparkly fireworks on the paper.  Allow to dry and display!  We practiced color mixing while we painted our fireworks (V learned to mix purple, green, and brown colors from primary colored paints).

Mama's Version for Demonstration

4th of July themed Nature Table/Tray 

This Montessori/Waldorf concept can be adapted so many different ways.  There are a ton of websites that give examples of nature trays for you to explore as a reference. We like to make learning our own in our home so this is what I came up with and what V added.

Our Nature Tray

Materials and Instructions:

Take a small wooden tray (you can find them at a craft store).  I lined ours with blue sparkly felt for the season.  Our nature tray contains red stars, red and white “jewels”, sparkly star stickers, shells, sticks and rocks that V recently collected on outside excursions, fish, frog, flower, and bug stickers for some interactive seasonal fun, shells and a fossilized fish skin we found when visiting my dad in Florida.  We will add items as the weeks progress, and change out the 4th of July theme following the holiday.  We keep our tray on a little table near the entrance to our house so V can easily add to her collection.

(As with all crafts/activities posted here, neither this blog or the author accept liability for related injuries.  Please be responsible and provide proper supervision and use discretion when determining whether your child is old enough to complete the above projects, especially with children under the age of 3, for whom small objects might pose a choking hazard.)


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