Saturday, August 11, 2012

Books for (tiny) Boys

My 2 year old has been getting in on the reading action lately. Usually our routine is to read a book of each child's choosing both before afternoon quiet time and then again before bed.  With three kids choosing, we rack up some serious time reading time!

 Now my youngest is insisting on  choosing his *own* book for reading times too, and I thought I'd share some of his current favorites in case you need some library list inspiration for your little one. Of course, these are books tiny girls could certainly love, too - it just so happens my tiny one right now is a boy, and I do notice a bit of - shall we say? - masculine flair in his preferences.

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime
Bob Shea

Simple, fun, and inter-actable (ROAR!), this story's hero little Dinosaur takes on all kind of challenges. Piles of leaves, big slides, talking grown-ups... and the biggest challenge of all, bedtime! Its like they've been to our house, weird.

Little Blue Truck
Alice Schertle / Jill McElmurry

This book was given to us by my sweet Aunt Marti during our beach trip a month ago, and my 2 year old is still begging multiple readings of it daily. So many elements of a great early reading book - written in charming verse, lots of fun onamonapia, farm animals, vehicles, action / consequence (what happens when big Dump is rude?), team work, and even (though I admit it reads melodramatic) redemption. 

See, now you have to read it to find out how someone could really find  a board book redemptive. :)

Meeow and the Little Chairs
Sebastien Braun

This was one that one of my kids picked at the library that I was honestly was kind of "meh" about at first, but its proven entertaining. There are colors to point out, animal sounds to make, and my favorite - imaginative play is encouraged. I can also see this being a fun book for a beginner reader because the text is huge and fairly simple.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle

Of course you know about TVHC - how could you not? If you're like me you got three copies of the board book alone during your first child's babyhood. It has been such an enduring favorite around here that I made my little guy's 2nd birthday cake an homage to the Caterpillar:

(the eyes bore into your soul... or not)

But I couldn't have a list of books for little ones without it.

I'd love to know - what are your favorite books for tiny readers?

Monday, June 4, 2012

How to be a Happy Introvert Mom

image credit
I recently watched Susan Cain's delightful Ted Talk, "The Power of Introverts." It was fun in a "rah rah introverts are great!" kind of way, but it also got me thinking of the way that introvertedness affects my family life. My husband and I are both introverts, and we have naturally structured life and routines in a way that supports both our introverted tendencies. I have four children ages seven, five, four, and two years.  And I homeschool. On paper that would look very frightening to an introvert - but it really isn’t. Here's how.

Mama, know thyself

Somewhere along the way, “introvert” has picked up negative connotations. Have you ever been told, “you’re not an introvert, you’re so nice!”?  Introverts aren't necessarily shy or quiet, we are just people for whom social interaction is tiring rather than energizing. We don’t dislike people at all, they just wear us out. Consider how you feel after a morning playdate with lots of other moms. Do you feel energized when you get home, or do you need to take a nap?  If you are on the napping end, you might be an introvert. (If you haven’t ever taken a personality test, consider taking the Meyer’s Briggs personality test here or a quick inventory here). Temperament isn’t good or bad, it just is. Knowing that the reason you feel like ripping someone’s head off is because you haven’t had any alone time really helps me calm down and look for a meaningful solution.

Introverts are the minority in our culture, and need to be especially thoughtful about their self care while going through the trying season of mothering young children. Children as a rule need a huge amount of interaction to develop into secure, happy little people.  But for introverts, the process of pouring out attention and interaction on our little people is exhausting in a whole other way than it is to our extrovert friends. What makes us feel better is different as well. An introverted mom, when stressed and exhausted,  will generally not want to go to a large “girls night out” gathering of the local mom’s group. Not because she doesn’t like those other moms, but because when tired and stressed, more social interaction is not what she needs to recharge. I know I have felt weird and awkward turning down invitations to such events (don't even get me started on women's retreats), not quite understanding why that - while it might be fun when I’m fully rested - is the last thing I want to do in the evening after a hectic day. Knowing what will best serve to energize me allows me to invest in those things that will truly support me (hello, quiet reading cave), rather than doing what everyone else seems to expect me to want to do.

Enforce daily “quiet alone” time regardless of age

For me, letting a child give up their nap at 2 was just not going to happen. Although I’ve never been a sleep trainer, I found that when all the older children have a set early afternoon quiet time, the baby will naturally, for the most part, follow along.  How to keep nap / quiet time going in your house? A few strategies that work well in our house: 

  • Mp3 players for each child - the cheap kind. You can upload music they like, or my favorite, books on cd from the library.
  • Special “quiet time” coloring books or toys. April at Holistic Homemaking has a great post about her quiet time bins that she rotates daily, and lots of suggestions for putting together your own. In our family its more casual - I might give a kid the option between drawing pad or listening to a book on their mp3 player. My kids go to sleep late, so I prefer they read or sleep over playing, but for kids who are getting used to a quiet time initially, a special bin could ease the transition.
  • Separate spaces for everyone: my kids share rooms, but everyone gets a space of their own for quiet time. They take turns in the favored locations like mom & dad’s room. My oldest sometimes spends her quiet time reading outside on the bench swing. As long as I have an area I can be alone in too, it works.
  • Set the time: Older children who don’t fall asleep will drive you nuts popping their head out of their spaces asking if they can get up yet. Clearly setting an end to quiet time solves this. For us its one hour from when we start, and I use digital clocks (time telling practice). There are also cool kid friendly clocks available that can help younger kids with this - my friend Christina swears by her bunny clock. I read on a blog once (which I’ve forgotten now - arg!) about a mom who set up soothing music to play for an hour - and the kids knew that once the music stopped they could get up. Whatever works. Often at least two of my kids will sleep for a full two hours, so even when the hour is up, I still have everyone who is up be quiet until little nappers are awake.

Don't Over schedule Yourself!

Consider the effect that outside activities have on your energy level. Even if you love nothing more than to run from activity to activity, recent research heavily questions the enrichment activity craze, urging parents to allow children large stretches of unstructured play. You know, the kind that we had growing up. If you’re an introvert, you probably spent a nice chunk of that free play time happily reading or playing alone after being drained by the constant interaction of the school day. All the running around and interaction with strangers and acquaintances is wearisome. Are you tired and grouchy after a full afternoon of activities? Cut some of the activities and send you kids outside to play (or just to the next room) instead.

Don't feel the need to constantly entertain the children

You should encourage your kids. You should spread before them a “feast of ideas” that inspires them. But you should also...wait for it....just leave them alone. Let them come up with their own games and play time. Its really not your job to entertain them, and allowing them to amuse themselves (without necessarily turning to various screen based entertainment) will encourage creativity, problem solving skills, and overall independence.

I love the picture education reformer Charlotte Mason describes as an ideal situation of children at play: Mother is in the room, working on whatever project she needs to be doing, like dishes or laundry or blogging :) and the children are close by, easy to observe and if needed, correct. But they are involved in their own play, not looking to Mother to tell them what to do next, or depending on her as a playmate. Which leads me to another not so obvious strategy for introverted mothering...

Have a play group that never goes home

You may actually love having a larger than average family - they entertain each other! While I frequently get stopped by lots of eye rolling, “better-you-than-me” commenting people insisting that my hands are SO FULL - I know something they apparently don’t. Although four children pose logistical problems of scale that one or two children wouldn't, four children in close age range will entertain one another in a completely different way that one child alone or two children 3 or more years apart. The common sense approach to being an introverted parent would be that the fewer children, the better, right? The fewer people there are around you, the less stressed one would think you would be. But of course things work differently in mother world, and at least in my experience it actually been the opposite. Children two years or less apart are closer to each other developmentally and naturally play together more easily. So even though I have 4 children, they are all so close together that I am almost never begged to come play with them in the way my friends with one or two children far apart are. I do have cuddlers, but that’s a different story. I don’t *have* to take them to play dates several times a week (although we actually do try to go the park with friends once or twice a week), because they pretty much always have someone to play with. I’m not saying you should necessarily have more kids if you don’t already want a larger family, but just want to encourage you if maybe you would like more children but are afraid they would drive you over the edge.

Make it known that a great gift for you is babysitting

If your husband wants to support you, be real about what will really help you the most. For me, my husband taking out the trash or giving the kids a bath isn't nearly as helpful as watching the kids while I run errands or go for a run alone. His time is very valuable, and I want to be able to spend time with him when he’s home, so I don’t usually prevail on him to watch kids while I go out alone - I try to rely on the daily quiet time for my regular dose of alone time. But when your husband/family/friends ask for gift suggestions, consider asking for a longer, restorative time alone. For me an afternoon of browsing shelves at the library alone or a solo Target expedition recharges like little else.

Do you have any strategies for introverted mothering? What special strategies benefit extroverted mothering?

More fun reading on introverts:
"Caring for Your Internet" at The Atlantic

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Incorporating Poetry Into Your Home School

Read Alouds

First and easiest step - find yourself a good poetry compilation and use it frequently for read aloud time. I personally love A Child's Anthology of Poetry, which my husband bought several years ago as a non-picture book read aloud that he could easily read to the kids in short chunks. It has become an invaluable resource for us and really lots of fun for adult reading. The poems are not "children's poetry" in the sense that they were written with children as the primary audience, but were chosen as poems that will resonate with children but also provide a strong baseline familiarity with the major body of poetic literature.  Its a broad and diverse collection,  appropriate for a range of developmental levels. I most likely wouldn't read "The Raven" to a five year old for example, but the variety certainly gives a nice scope to the collection. On that note, my husband once read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" to my oldest daughter at 5 years old, and while I was horrified that she was going to have nightmares, she actually did enjoy it and seemed to comprehend a lot more than I would have expected.  Treat poetry reading as fun reading - please don't belabor the process by trying to unpack heavy meaning from the poems. Of course it can be fun to wonder out loud what happened in the poem, or are there times when you feel like that poem describes? Just don't turn what should be light and fun into a lecture at this point. A few other excellent compilations: Favorite Poems of Childhood and The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury.

Copy Work
Oh copy work, you are my favorite "kill two birds with one stone" trick - or in this case three or four birds. Copy work  improves handwriting, spelling, and vocabulary, while also giving children the opportunity to slow down and absorb the words they are writing. I initially ran into the idea of copy work while reading Charlotte Mason's books on education, and have seen it put to use in a structured way in First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind, a book I use heavily for Language Arts. There is really no need to follow a set regime though - right now we are on summer break, which for us is like "homeschool lite" - math facts, reading, read alouds, and a bit of writing and copywork. I just find a good poem and write it out carefully in cursive for my 7 year old (who is  just starting writing script) and have her copy it a few lines a day, or however she would like to do it at her own pace. Often by the time she has copied it, she has a good appreciation for the poem and sometimes has already started to memorize it a bit. Which leads me to...

You don't have to be Classical or Charlotte Mason inspired to benefit from poetry recitation. Forgive me if I go a little Anne of Green Gables on you, but there is a certain simple joy in being able to call up verse from memory. Young children will even spontaneously memorize their picture books without even trying. All it takes really is re-reading the poem several times over the course of a week and reviewing now and then. When a poem is mastered, we will usually make a big deal out of the child reciting for Dad, and also reciting for the video camera to delight the gradparents (or really more likely make them think that I'm really weird and trying to have little Anne of Green Gables children - but whatever).

Specific Literary Devices / Unit Studies
I taught an introduction to poetry class to kindergardners (yes, kindergartners) in our homeschool co-op a few years back. It was a little nuts, I admit, but I had a great time and the kids seemed to enjoy it and really get into many of the activities I had them do.  In a circle-time set up, I read the poem out loud to the group with enthusiasm, then very briefly discussed one major literary device that the poem used. I touched on vocabulary words that would be especially obscure,  and for some of the poems included a brief picture study to help illustrate the vocabulary. Then of course we did a hands on activity (usually some kind of craft) rounding everything out. For example, we made little styrofoam boats when we studied "There is No Frigate like a Book," and acted out a cozy house scene complete with having animal crackers and cocoa when reading "Animal Crackers." You could easily build a poetry unit study at home using the same model. Here are some of the poems I used, and what I emphasized:

"The Owl and the Pussycat" Edward Lear - nonsense words

"There Is No Frigate Like a Book" Emily Dickinson - simile

"maggie and milly and molly and may"   e.e. cummings - descriptive language

"Macavity: The Mystery Cat" T.S. Eliot - narrative poem

"Animal Crackers"  Christopher Moreley - rhyming

"Something Told the Wild Geese"  Rachel Field - loud / soft

"The Children's Hour"  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - point of view

Poet Unit Study
Another idea is to focus on one particular poet. I have not done this in a structured way yet, although we have read several poems by the same author and commented a little (like, "oh, I love the way that Christina Rosetti writes about nature!" - but not much beyond that). At this point in my kids' education, I prefer to focus on the language of the poems themselves over the author, but I can see focusing on the poets as an interesting tie-in to history, or as an interest-led project. An older student might enjoy reading biographies of poets, and could practice expository writing discussing a particular poet's style and literary contribution. I think for most students, this can happily wait until middle to upper grades.

I hope this has given you some ideas to easily introduce your students to the delights of poetry! Happy reading!

Princess Books For Moms Who Hate Princesses

Okay, maybe hate is a bit too strong a word - more of a mental eyeroll. After having two sweet little girls who love princesses with no prompting from Mom whatsoever,  my chosen defense to the superficial aspects of princess mania has become good princess books. This was a bit challenging at first, as the overt "princess books" that I found that outwardly poked fun at the whole princess genre were a bit too pushy and snarky for me. I don't want to make fun of my girls, and I didn't find those anti-princess books terribly well written. But over the years though happy library browsing accident, we've come across several excellent books that center around princesses who display courage, kindness, intelligence, compassion, and self sacrifice - all those things I want my daughter to admire over great hair and a tiny waist.

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale 
John Steptoe

Mufaro has two daughters - both considered to be the most beautiful around. Although they are both lovely in form and face, the two sisters vary widely in their attitudes. One is hard-working and compassionate, the other is vain and cruel. As they journey to meet the prince, their true natures will become clear to their potential bridegroom. This book has been a wonderful jumping off point into the discussion of, "what makes someone beautiful?"

The Rough-Face Girl
Rafe Martin / David Shannon

Based on a Native American folk tale, this beautifully told, haunting story centers around a young girl spurned by her cruel older sisters. She is forced to tend the fire, resulting in disfiguring scars covering her face and body. In her village lives a powerful invisible being, who will only marry the woman who can see him. Its a wonderful story of bravery, determination, and authenticity that ends with cheer-out-loud redemption.

The Egyptian Cinderella  
Shirley Climo / Ruth Heller

The story of Rodopis, a Greek slave girl in Egypt, is considered the earliest Cinderella story. Its thought to have been originally recorded in the 1st century BCE by the Greek historian Strabo. I think that if you take the fluffy Disney filter away from the the Cinderella story, you are left with a core that emphasizes perseverance through difficult circumstances and true moral fiber winning in the end. This retelling we found  through Veritas Press and used it with our study of Ancient Egypt as corresponding literature and it was a favorite! 

Tomie dePaola

Another lovely Cinderella story, this one based in Mexico. 
I love how the Cinderella story translates and relates to so many cultures. 
 Tomie dePaola's iconic illustrations and excellent storytelling shines as always. 

Jane Ray

This original story centers around the youngest and least impressive princess of her family who it turns out is the one who bravely and willingly sacrifices to save her people when her kingdom's need is most dire. The illustrations bring to mind a lovely mythical Persian feel.

Okay, so while this story really centers more on the princes seeking her hand than on the princess, I would include because the princess in question shows wisdom and follows her heart over superficial trappings. Its also one of my four year old son's favorites, so its got that boy appeal too. :)

I know there have to be many more out there -
Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Yes, it has come to this...

...we have become *that* family who takes a laundry basket to the library. And to think I thought Susan Wise Bower was a little excessive when she wrote about her family doing this in A Well Trained Mind.

I broke one too many reusable grocery bags carrying library books. 
Here comes mama nerd with all her nerdlets!