What I’ve Been Reading

BooksMy husband and children often tease me about how many books I have out from the library (sometimes over 100!). They also find it strange that I am usually reading several books at the same time.  But that doesn’t really seem all that odd to me. After all, when I was in college, taking several courses at once, didn’t I read more than one book at a time then?  I just tell them that they should try it too, maybe they could actually keep up with me!

I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading lately. There is usually no real pattern to what I read at any given time. I just follow my interests moment by moment. Here is what I have going at the moment.

I just finished a book called How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World by Leslie Vernick. This book challenges the current cultural focus on self-centered living. It was a refreshing call to make some changes in my life that would help move me toward personal, relational and spiritual growth. I highly recommend it to anyone who is tired of the “looking out for number one” mentality.

I am also currently reading a book called Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker, M.D. This book looks at how we as parents can help our boys to truly enjoy just being boys. The author offers practical ways to teach our sons to become responsible, caring men of integrity in a world that often portrays men as weak and stupid. Just watch some prime time TV and you will see plenty of examples of men being made to look foolish. This book is a real encouragement to return to some of the old-fashioned forms of play for boys and turn away from the offerings of the current culture that seeks to make them less than they were created to be.  Great book!

Another book I am reading is called Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck. This is a sort of laid back textbook on creating fiction. If you are interested in learning the craft of writing stories or have a teen who is interested in writing, this is a great book to help you create memorable characters. This is the third time I’ve read this title which is out of print but still available used at Amazon.com.

I just picked up a new book from the library last week called Simple Food for Busy Families: The Whole Life Nutrition Approach by Jeannette Bessinger and Tracee Yablon-Brenner. I have only read the first few chapters but these two authors have already given me some great ideas about making healthier choices when it comes to feeding my family. The book is loaded with nutritional information, tips, and recipes that will help you find the confidence to try a new healthier way of eating.

Finally, I always have a fiction title in the works as well as all the others. Right now I am reading Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I’ve read this book before, probably 8 or 9 years ago. It is definitely worth reading more than once. I love this story because if reminds me that no one is ever beyond God’s reach. A great story based on the Old Testament story of Gomer in the book of Hosea.

Well, that’s it for the moment. In another post I’ll tell you about the genealogy books and the quilting books and the cookbooks…maybe I’ll make this a regular monthly post. I know I’d never run out of material!

Happy reading!

–Sheryl

Save Money with Old-Fashioned Homemade Gifts

I am always on the lookout for frugal gift ideas. Even without the recent economic woes, we have needed to be careful in this area. It is easy to go way over your budget for gifts in a hurry!  With my large family and fast-growing extended family, finding a way to give gifts to those we love while keeping expenses down has always been a challenge.

Many years we have made the decision that hand-made gifts are our best option.  There is something about being able to create a gift for someone that goes beyond simply going to the store in search of the perfect gift at a bargain price. I think we get a chance to really savor the anticipation of how the gift will be received and are able to feel the love we have for the recipient going into the process.

Some years we have made food items and other time it’s been Christmas ornaments or household items. Lately, I have been sewing a lot of gifts since I have granddaughters.  I think finally having girls around has awakened a love for creating things from fabric that I never knew existed until now!  I’ve made dolls, quilts, aprons, and puppets and have a great time coming up with new ideas for the next project.  Right now I am finishing a little doll quilt for my granddaughter’s birthday in a few weeks. It is made from the same material that I made her baby quilt from when she was born so she and her dolly will have matching quilts.

Usually — at least at Christmas time — I involve my sons in the creating. Each time the satisfaction that shows on their faces when they present a gift that they helped make is priceless.  There are shelves of books full of ideas for making the perfect gift. We have used many books and websites over the years that have had great ideas. I’ve compiled a list of a few that I think have some good projects and contain easy instructions.

The first three titles are out of print but available from used books sellers on Amazon.com.

201 Craft Bazaar Best-Sellers is a book packed with easy projects that you might find at any craft bazaar. The projects are simple to create and would be fun to do with children.

55 Country Doughcraft Designs has almost twenty pages of basic instructions and technique before they get to the projects. After reading the clear directions you will feel confident to try your hand at dough craft.  The projects range from very simple to challenging and there are plenty of illustrations to show you the finished products.

Crafts to Make and Sell is another book full of projects you might find at craft bazaars. The instructions are clear and the variety of projects is amazing. The cover says “more than 1000 projects, tips, and ideas for marketing or giving your crafts”

Finally, a much newer title is Painting and Decorating Clay Pots.  This book had 150 fun step-by-step projects using terra-cotta pots that you can find at any craft or garden store. You might even find some on clearance toward the end of summer.  This book is laid out in an easy to follow format. Each project has the instructions, a list of materials and a picture of the finished product. Projects range from small ornaments to household decorations to larger outdoor decorations. They are fun to make and fun to give.

Now is the time to start thinking about Christmas gifts!  You can take your time and make some wonderful gifts if you start early!

Have fun!

–Sheryl

Do You Geek the Library?

GeekTheLibrary.org

From a homeschooler’s perspective, it goes without saying that the library is a vital part of daily life — at least at our house. I don’t know about you, but for our family, the library is actually our main source of curriculum. I use the word “curriculum” loosely.  It isn’t uncommon for me to have more than 100 books signed out on my library card at one time. Fortunately for me, my library has no limit to the number of books you can take home!

Years ago, when I began homeschooling I spent hours with the curriculum catalogs and then spent more hours in the vendor hall of our state homeschool convention in search of the perfect curriculum.   I collected boxes of different programs all designed to be the perfect means by which to educate my children.

Now, eighteen years later, I have tossed most of those texts and also tossed the concept that we need some sort of canned program at all. These days you will find us on any given school day, reading a variety of books — most, if not all, from the public library.

At this moment, because of the current economic challenges we are all facing, libraries are becoming endangered.  Many state and local governments are considering cutting funding for libraries at a time when the resources available there are more important than ever.

As homeschoolers, we are quite familiar with the need to make our voices heard about issues of importance. This is another cause that we can get behind wholeheartedly. Institutions like the public library are part of what makes our country a great place. Let’s get informed and get the word out that we need our libraries to be a priority.

You can start by visiting GeekTheLibrary.org and sending the link to anyone you feel would be interested. No one will know that we think this is important unless we tell them.

What do you geek?

–Sheryl

Mama, Let’s Color!

Coral Reef

One of my favorite activities, especially on rainy or snowy days, is to color with my kids. Now I’m not talking about the box of crayons and the dime store coloring book sort of coloring. I am talking about artist quality colored pencils and Dover Publications coloring books. Dover Publications has hundreds of coloring books on a huge variety of subjects that can really enhance your child’s learning experience. Some of the titles are just for fun and for the joy of creating art but others are very informational. There many historical titles that could be incorporated into unit studies.

Comparing this type of coloring to the old-fashioned crayon variety is like comparing sirloin steak to hot dogs. Hot dogs certainly have their place but for real quality, you might look for something a little more sophisticated. In the realm of coloring books, Dover definitely is the quality you are looking for.

Prismacolor

You can purchase a set of Prismacolor colored pencils for a fraction of what they cost in even discount art supply stores. Then we gradually put together a pretty impressive collection of books. Some we ordered new and some we picked up at yard sales for a quarter. We have books that cover all different time periods, nature topics and geometric figures.

We don’t worry about who colors in which books for the most part. We usually just choose a book and a picture that suits us at the moment. There is one exception — Mom has a Victorian House book that’s off limits!  I have worked my way slowly through this book one room at a time and am almost finished with my masterpiece.  I also have one which contains pictures of the outside of houses that I am enjoying. Of course, I  like the nature ones, too especially the ones with flower gardens in them. My boys aren’t too picky but they really aren’t interested in my house coloring books. They prefer the historical and the natures titles.

Another title that has been particularly useful is the Human Anatomy book. It shows the body systems in very detailed illustrations so you can learn how our bodies are designed as you color. A great resource to combine with biology or health studies.

There are a couple of tips I’ve learned that will help the experience to go smoothly. One thing I would suggest is to purchase a pencil sharpener that is strong enough to handle the harder lead of the pencils.  We ruined an electric one with overuse. I finally just bought a metal hand-held one designed for artists. It works fine, just remember to give your artists a place to collect the shavings while they are sharpening. A paper plate or something like a piece of poster board will work fine.  Also, we have learned that if we want our books to look good when we are all done with them, it’s a good idea to use a piece of plain white paper between the pages so the pressure you exert while coloring on your current page doesn’t “transfer” the colors on the previous pages onto each other. The white paper picks up any color that is transferred by your pencil pressure.

Happy coloring!

–Sheryl

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.

–Sheryl

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,

–Sheryl

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.

Enjoy!

 

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.

 

My Definition of ‘Homeschooling’

Yes, I have homeschooled my children. But that doesn’t mean that homeschooling is right for you and your family.

I’m also a degreed, licensed teacher for grades K-12 and have taught in public schools. I also had a child enrolled in a private school.

When I talk about “homeschooling,” I don’t want to imply that I’m against public or private education. I’m not. It may be the best solution for some families. “Homeschooling” to me can mean any supplemental education or tutoring your child receives that helps him or her succeed in school — or life. It can be at home or in a classroom inside a brick-and-mortar school building.

I say all that because I feel like I have something to offer you and your children to get them on track with their education, no matter what form of education that may be. Whether it’s through this blog or one-on-one, I might be able to help. Maybe your child struggles with a structured classroom environment. Perhaps math isn’t their best subject. Many students just need the right environment and the right tactics to help them learn. I can help motivate your child to be the best they can be. Sometimes all you need — or all your child needs — is a fresh, outside perspective on learning.

Then the light bulb clicks on in their mind…and nothing can stop them.

Happy learning,

–Sheryl