Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook

Recently a friend reminded me of a wonderful resource that I had used many years ago and then somehow forgot about.  Back when I was in college I took a children’s literature course that introduced me to The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. At that time I was revisiting my childhood, reading piles of great children’s books as part of my homework for class. When this book was given to me way back then I was thrilled to have a resource that reviewed some of the best books available to read with children.

Read Aloud

Of course, I had a very limited vision at that time and only saw it as a resource to further prepare me to be a classroom teacher. Several years later I again revisited this book as I decided to homeschool my boys. Then over the last decade, I somehow lost track of this great resource.

Today, with my brand new copy — thanks to that friend I mentioned earlier, I am sitting in the library tracking down some great books to read with my boys. If you’ve never heard of The Read-Aloud Handbook I would encourage you to get your hands on a copy. The author spends the first half of the book talking about the need for and the mechanics of reading aloud. He includes some information about how to choose age-appropriate titles and some advice about dos and don’ts.  He also spends some time encouraging silent reading and talks about how to set up a climate that fosters all types of reading.

All this information is great but the best part of the book is the 115 pages devoted to book lists and short summaries of 1,000 titles that he recommends for reading aloud. Of course, as with any list of recommendations, you will find books (as I have) that won’t be appropriate for your family but it’s a simple matter just to skip those titles.  The author does make mention of the fact that he has issues with what he calls  “religious censorship”  and makes it clear that children should have more control over what they read than perhaps some families are comfortable with.

Still, The Read-Aloud Handbook is a great resource for parents and will give you some wonderful ideas about what to read next with your children.


Ways to Avoid Summer Brain Drain

Summer ActivitiesI know a lot of homeschoolers do some sort of formal schooling all year round. For a long time, I started each year with the intention of continuing through the summer but as April rolled around and then we got into May, my resolve always crumbled — by then we all needed a break.

The research is plentiful if you want some proof that learners actually lose some of what they learned if they take a long break from the learning process. I had plenty of evidence in my own house, I didn’t need convincing.

What I did need was a way to take a much-needed break from the more structured education process that we follow most of the year without losing too much ground. I’m really not worried about “getting behind.” I just didn’t want to spend unnecessary time “relearning” before we could move on.

What I’ve found with my own kids is that it isn’t always that important what they think about during the summer. In other words, they don’t always need to be progressing in the usual subjects like math lessons and spelling lists. I’ve found that a little review now and then, coupled with a variety of activities that keep their brains from collecting cobwebs is enough to prevent the sort of information dump that we are constantly being warned about.

If your family is anything like mine, then you are learning new things all the time. We have never considered summer as a break from learning, just as a break from the routine of the rest of the year. We are always looking for new things to explore. So what we do now is to try to be a little more intentional about learning but we mostly just have fun!

Here is a list of  some of the things we do in the summer that help us keep our brains engaged:

  • Reading lots of books for the library reading program.
  • Reading magazines –  click here for a list of great magazines for kids
  • Watching nature or travel DVD’s
  • Keeping identification books for bugs, birds, wildflowers, trees, weather, etc. handy so we can look up anything that happens to come across our path
  • Drawing and art projects
  • Board games
  • Hobbies like stamp collecting and coin collecting, kites, rockets, model cars, fishing, woodworking — all these things require learning new vocabulary and new skills

Aside from those activities, camping trips and family vacations offer tremendous opportunities for learning.  The thing I always try to remember is that my main goal is not to fill my kids’ heads with a bunch of facts but to teach them to love the process of learning and I think the summer months are the perfect time to do that.

Here are a few books with more ideas:

1,001 Boredom Busting Play Ideas

101 Kids Activities That Are the Bestest, Funnest Ever!

Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids

150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids: The Very Best and Easiest Playtime Activities from FunAtHomeWithKids.com!

So enjoy your summer and learn some new things right along with your kids.

Happy learning,


A Boxful of Memories


I’ve spent the past several weeks sorting through boxes of keepsakes. I can’t believe some of the stuff I’ve kept over the years. When we moved three and a half years ago we made fewer and fewer decisions about what to pack as the days drew nearer to moving day.  Finally, at the end we just packed without much sorting—we were out of time.  When you have lived in the same house, raising seven boys for nearly twenty years, you accumulate a lot of stuff!

Then there’s the other issue – my mother died quite a few years ago and my father remarried and moved into his bride’s home.  Much of my mother’s belongings came to me since I was the only daughter and also the oldest. Some of her things were items she’d inherited from her own mother when she died nearly thirty years ago.

So now, I have all this stuff—photos, old glassware, postcards, newspaper clippings…the list goes on and on. Some of the items are quite valuable I would imagine, but since I’m not really interested in selling, I’m not compelled to have any of it appraised right now.  No, at this point I just need to figure out where to put everything. With a house full of active boys I don’t dare display the hundred-year-old ceramic plate but keeping everything in a box in a closet somewhere isn’t the best way to really enjoy these keepsakes either.

What I have finally decided to do with at least some of my treasures is to design shadow boxes. I think I’ll make one in memory of my mother first. My husband can build the boxes and I’ll choose some of her things that hold memories for me. I might include her nurse’s pin and her picture in her uniform.  I’ll probably include some of her jewelry, nothing terribly expensive, just items I remember were her favorites.

For my grandmother’s box, I already know I’ll include a pair of her glasses. Back in the 60’s she was quite stylish and wore those pointed rims with rhinestone decorations.  She also had a sequinned purse. I’ll probably do another box of items my grandfather brought home from his tour in Japan during WWII.

By making all of these boxes I can display at least some of the things that remind me of my family and what each person meant to me. I’m excited to get started on this project. I’ve found a few websites and books (listed below) to help get the creative juices flowing. Now all I have to do is get my husband to build those boxes… a pan of brownies should do the trick!

How to Create a Shadow Box

How to Display Keepsakes in a Shadow Box Without Gluing Them Down

Make a Keepsake Shadow Box


Box Frame MagicBox Frame Magic explains how to make the actual boxes to put your momentos in.

Making Memory Boxes has some great ideas for creating decorated boxes to keep the things you don’t choose to put in your shadow boxes.

Memory Keepsakes contains 43 different projects to make that help you preserve your memories.

Some Good Old-Fashioned Summer Fun

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for some fun things for the kids to do that don’t involve “screens” of any kind. By that I mean computer, TV, iPod, video game, you get the idea…

Here are a couple of books that are loaded with some of the fun things we did as kids and some new ideas that I can’t wait to try with my boys.

Summer Fun!Summer Fun! 60 Activities For a Kid-Perfect Summer by Susan Williamson is a great resource full of creative things to do.  Here’s a look at some of what you will find inside:

  •  chapter 1 – stilts, boomerangs, yo-yos, fortune cookies, and bubbles
  •  chapter 2 –  bug hotel, bats, and toads
  •  chapter 3-  strawberry jam, pretzels, and floppy hats
  •  chapter 4 – rain gauge, sign language, Morse code, and puppets
  •  chapter 5 – art projects, solar system supper, camping out, and  nighttime fun
  •  chapter 6 – redecorate your bedroom, drawing a floor plan, fun with string and yarn
  •  chapter 7 – learn a new skill, clouds, and sand painting
  •  chapter 8 – trees, mud, and beach fun

Also scattered throughout the chapters are sidebars entitled “Making a Difference” suggesting activities that involve doing something nice for someone else.  The author also manages to squeeze in segments with summer reading selections that tie in with the activities.

This book is a very practical resource aimed at kids ages 7-12. They will be able to complete most of the activities by themselves but a few will require adult assistance.

The Kids Summer Games Book
Another title I found useful is The Kid’s Summer Games Book by Jane Drake and Ann Love.  This is a book jam-packed with the instructions for all those old games we played as kids like Spud and croquet. There are games for groups or just one or two. There are games that you can make, like Pick-Up sticks and Bingo.  They have water games and games for indoors on rainy days. There are even instructions for setting up a miniature golf course with things commonly found around most households.   The only caution I would have is that the book does contain some card games including poker. If your family has strong feelings about card playing you might want to skip that section of the book.

Early Pleasures and Pasttimes
Finally, if you really want to step back in time and wonder how folks entertained themselves before all the electronic gadgets we have today, you might enjoy looking through a book called Early Pleasures and Pastimes by Bobbie Kalman.  This book has some delightful old-fashioned pen-and-ink illustrations and explores activities like hopscotch, marbles, farmyard games and jump rope.  There are great discussions of picnics and festivals, family celebrations and holidays.  It takes a refreshing look at times gone by when family and friendship were the most important ingredients to having fun.



Homeschooling Hinders Assimilation?

While browsing the internet the other day, I ran across this letter to the editor in the Tennessean that really ruffled my feathers:

“Home schooling in America has doubled in the past decade. What’s wrong with this picture? Students attending public schools, by necessity, associate with others who are different from themselves. This enables children to learn to think for themselves and to become tolerant of those who are different, preparing them for the “real world” once they become adults. Rather than being concerned with their children receiving a broad education, many home-school parents apparently are more concerned that they grow up with their own beliefs and prejudices. Home schooling makes these children’s assimilation into society much more difficult.”

When I read this type of article I am always amazed at the narrow-mindedness of some homeschool critics.  Perhaps he should instead look at why so many parents are deciding to homeschool their children. This man states that “students attending public schools, by necessity, associate with others who are different than themselves.”  I have a difficult time finding evidence to back up this statement as I am sure he would too if he cared to look for any.

From my perspective as a former public school teacher, I would say that the students in a public school setting are actually more alike than different. This is especially obvious at the high school level. Enter any high school in the country and you are likely to find some or all of the following:

  • A group of teens—all in different stages of puberty but all going through the same basic changes—struggling to understand life and surrounded by others who are also struggling and have no answers.
  • A group that generally eats and drinks the same type of food and beverages on most days, whether they are healthy choices or not.
  • A group of kids who speak the same language complete with profanity and the current slang.
  • A group that is learning the same things at the same time in order to meet some man-made standard that the school has been programmed to teach.

The author of the letter states that homeschooled students have difficulty associating with people who are different and they can’t assimilate. First of all, in regards to the short list above, the opportunity to encounter diversity is much greater outside the school walls in the “real” world than within them. And secondly, if assimilation is the goal, I don’t think that the teen sub-culture is the place I particularly want my kids to become assimilated.

Webster’s definition of assimilate is “to make similar,: to alter by assimilation: to absorb into the culture or mores of the population or group.”

Even more revealing is the definition of “assimilation. ” Webster says “the process of receiving new facts or of responding to new situations in conformity with what is already available to the consciousness.”  That sounds like brainwashing techniques to me. It’s that word “conformity” that really bothers me.  The author states that the association and assimilation he believes is lacking in homeschoolers is something that teaches students to think for themselves.  I think he needs to read his dictionary.

A World View of the Family Meal

What the World Eats

What the World Eats

We just finished reading a fascinating book called What the World Eats.  This book is a photo essay with photographs taken by Peter Menzel. He also wrote a book back in the 90’s called Material World: A Global Family Portrait which is also worth your time, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

What the World Eats takes a look at 25 families from 21 countries and explores what they eat in a week’s time. The photos show the family together with their week’s supply of food displayed in the foreground. There is also a detailed list of the grocery items and the cost in both their country’s currency and US dollars. There are interesting facts about each country as well as a narrative about what life is like for the family. In addition, there are pages scattered throughout the book with statistics about life in the countries and how the individual countries compare to the rest. One page that we found quite interesting was the one that compared life expectancy.  There are also graphs that show interesting tidbits like how many McDonald’s restaurants are in each country and what the literacy rate is.

I read this book aloud with my two youngest boys covering one or two families each day. After we read we talked about the pictures and what life was like for each family. I was amazed at how quickly my boys recognized that we live in a very wealthy country compared to the rest of the world. We had many discussions about how spoiled we felt when we looked at what other families had or didn’t have.

There are several websites that go along with this book. And on this page, it shows several of the photos from an earlier book called Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. The website doesn’t include the informative text about the families.

Material World: A Global Family Portrait

Material World: A Global Family Portrait

The other book I mentioned, called Material World: A Global Family Portrait, is similar in format but this time the focus in on what each family owns. The photos show the family outside their home with all of their belongings displayed around them. Again, it was sobering to see how people in other parts of the world live.   On the web, you can find more information here where you can see some of the families in the program NOVA developed around this book.  You can also visit Peter Menzel’s website for more information about his work.