Audio Books: A Great Way to Forget the Winter Chill

At our house it has become tradition to spend the cold days of our Iowa winters listening to books on CD. We are often finished with our schoolwork shortly after lunch which leaves the long afternoons to work together on a jigsaw puzzle while we listen to a book on CD. We have listened to some wonderful books over the years and I wanted to share our list of favorites with you.

As my children have grown we have chosen more challenging stories but while they were younger we listened to books like these:

The Magic Tree House Collection by Mary Pope Osborne ( many sets to choose from)

Little House on the Prairie Collection by Laura Ingalls Wilder ( there are several of these to choose from)

Your Story Hour collections (there are many of these to choose from)

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner ( there are many of these to choose from)

Charlotte’s Web by E B White

When the boys got older we listened to books that required a little more concentration like these:

The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis

Adventures in Odyssey by the AIO Team ( there are many of these to choose from and they are all good!)

Homer Price by Robert McCloskey ( this one is hard to find. Check your library)

Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr (this one is hard to find. Check with your library)

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck ( also by this author: A Long Way From Chicago, Here Lies the Librarian, and A Season of Gifts)

The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater ( and the sequel – Looking for Bobowicz)

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

The Penderwicks by Jean Birdsall

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit

Right now we are listening to the third book in a series by Trenton Lee Stewart called The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma. This is by far our favorite series to date. The first two books are called The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey.

These titles and many others are available at your public library. You might also consider using a digital download service that many libraries are offering. This service in Iowa libraries is called WILBOR and is easy to access from your home computer. For more information about WILBOR check out my Examiner.com article.

What I’ve Been Reading

You would think with the busyness of the holidays that I wouldn’t have time to read. Wrong! I always have time to read. It is definitely my sanity safety net.  This month I have been reading a variety of things. Sometimes whole books, sometimes just portions of a book. Either way, I have found some interesting reading lately.

One book I have been enjoying is Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe. This is a fascinating culinary tour of the world that highlights a vast collection of foods and places. From the cherries of northern Michigan, to vanilla from Madagascar, to the mushrooms of central France, you are treated to delicacies that will intrigue you. And the book is published by National Geographic so the photos are amazing. This book reminds me of the Peter Menzel books that I reviewed in an earlier post. You can find that review here.  Books like these allow you to experience the world from the comfort of your home. I know it isn’t quite like being there, but for large families like ours, on one income, the opportunity to actually travel the world is not really an option. This is one way to bring some of the worlds diversity to your family in a very satisfying way.

Another book I’ve been reading is called Homeschool Your Child For Free by LauraMaery Gold and Joan M. Zielinski. This book contains more than 1,400 resources that you can take advantage of for free.  The book is divided into subject areas and then further grouped in smaller subtopics. Every entry has a brief summary of what is available and then the web address. Most are totally free. Some do have subscription options that give you access to more of the website’s resources should you choose to pay the fee. I have found some great websites that I will be using with my boys.

Finally, a book that has given me much to think about is Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World by Dr. David Jeremiah. This book is sort of a follow-up to a previous book he wrote called What in the World is Going On? Last winter we listened to a series of Dr. Jeremiah’s messages (on the prophecies from the book of Revelation) that became the book What in the World is Going On? We were fascinated by the information he shared. Now I am reading this lastest book and find that his suggestions about how we are to live, in light of the end times message, are very helpful. His focus is on what we can do that is positive in an increasingly negative world. It has really helped me to redirect my energy to something more productive than living in fear of the future. I highly recommend any of Dr. Jeremiah’s books. He seems to have a very realistic view of how we can face the future with anticipation instead of apprehension.

Well, that’s all I have for now. I’ll have a new list in a couple of weeks when I finish these books and start on the pile I have waiting for me!

Happy reading!

–Sheryl

Creation Science Resources

creationThis year marked the 100th birthday of Charles Darwin. With that fact drawing attention again to his work, there has been a renewed interest in the age old conflict  – Evolution vs. Creationism.  My older boys have shown an interest in this topic and have read several books about the subject. We have had an opportunity to discuss what a Christian world view is and how it is  in conflict with the other popular worldviews of the current era.

We have found several resources that have been particularly helpful in our studies of Creation and of the ongoing controversy surrounding it. I have listed some of the best that we have examined so far. We are certainly not finished with this subject and will probably find many more reference materials being published in the near future. Therefore, consider this a list in progress, subject to change as more information becomes available.

Probably THE best source of information concerning the study of Creation comes from Creation Ministries International. They have the most up to date information and the greatest presentation that I have seen so far. You could spend days on their website and still not see everything.

Another great resource is Answers In Genesis. Founded by Ken Ham, this organization has spent 30 years sharing information on topics such as the age of the earth, the flood and the significance of archaeological discoveries. There are many answers to the questions that people have been asking for decades.

Some excellent books on Creation can be found on both of the websites previously mentioned. There are also several other titles that we have found helpful so I will list them here.

In the Beginning by Walt Brown – This book is available to read online on the Center for Creation Science website.

Unlocking The Mysteries of Creation by Dennis R Petersen – This book is a wonderfully illustrated volume of information concerning Creation. It is available on the Creation Resource Foundation website.

Do You Geek the Library?

GeekTheLibrary.org

From a homeschoolers 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 that 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

Sometimes Life Gets Messy

LaundrySometimes my life gets messy. I’m not talking about issues, emotional stress, challenging relationships. Not that kind of mess. I’m talking about the really physical mess that happens in households where kids are being trained.  For years I have had trouble finding the line between training my children to be responsible and keeping my household up to the standards I would like it to be.  When you are training children there is always that learning curve that inevitably leaves pot holes in the road.

This morning there was a pretty impressive pot hole.  We are in the process of training our boys to do laundry. Not just to learn the mechanics of running the washer and dryer. The whole process is of course, much more involved than that. At our house it involves the following steps:

  1. Finding the laundry (search the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms and sometimes the front steps, please)
  2. Sorting (no, that new black shirt doesn’t go in with the load of white socks and underwear)
  3. Loading the washer (you cannot wash 25 bath towels at once, that would be at least TWO loads — and don’t forget the detergent!)
  4. Remembering that there is laundry in the washer before the sour smell gives it away
  5. Putting the laundry in the dryer (that little door with the fuzzy stuff coming out all over is supposed to be emptied EVERY time you load the dryer)
  6. Taking the clean clothes out of the dryer ( were the clothes in the bottom of that basket you just dumped clean clothes into, clean or dirty?)
  7. Bringing the clean clothes upstairs
  8. Sorting
  9. Folding
  10. Putting it away where it belongs

And that still isn’t the end of it. There is also the aspect that the laundry person needs to stay on top of the job. It is not acceptable to leave a zillion loads in the laundry bin and expect it to just  some how wash itself. The other thing is, since we have more than one trainee there is that issue of expecting that “someone else” will do it.  I often find myself saying,”someone needs to change the laundry” to which my husband can be heard saying frequently “someone doesn’t live here.”

So this morning, when my husband got up to go to work the clothes he needed hadn’t been put in the dryer the night before and now he was scrambling to find something to wear. It should never get to this point but when you are training children to be responsible there will be times when the system fails. They won’t always get it right and knowing that, we sometimes have the tendency to “just do it ourselves” so we avoid any issues. Whether we know it or not, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we choose to avoid the possibility of failure.

What we can do is keep working with our kids. They will eventually learn if we don’t give up. They will become responsible adults, eventually.  So just keep trying, keep training…and retraining. Keep encouraging them and keep praising them when they get closer to the goal. When the trash is overflowing and no one but you seems to notice, when the dog’s water bowls are empty…again, when the laundry smells funny because it sat in the washer too long, just remember that you main goal right now is training your kids, not having a flawlessly run household. It might be tempting to just do everything yourself but your kids will be the better for it if you just persevere.  One day they will be grown and gone and you will have your house in order. You will be proud of who they have become and you might even miss these chaotic days just a little.

Keep pressing on!

–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 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 reasource for parents and will give you some wonderful ideas about what to read next with your children.  It is available either new or used at Amazon.com.

Happy reading,

–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” (click here to find out more about why this doesn’t have to be a concern).  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 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. So enjoy your summer and learn some new things right along with your kids.

Happy learning,

–Sheryl

It’s Summer! Get Out Those Library Cards!

Child ReadingWith summer in full swing it’s time to get everyone signed up for a summer reading program. Of course you can check with your local library to see what they are offering but there are also several great online opportunities for encouraging your kids to read over the summer.

Click here to see one program that is geared for homeschoolers. It’s in it’s eleventh year. There’s a nominal fee ($1.39) to cover postage when they send your kids a prize package at the end of the program.  Beverly Hernandez of About.com apologizes for the fee but I think it is a small price to pay to keep your kids reading. On the website you will find the rules and the dates that the program runs. At the end of the summer you simply mail in your reading logs with the small fee and your child will receive a packet that includes a certificate, stickers and a prize.

Also be sure to check out  a Summer reading program called Summer Reading Splash that is sponsored by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. This program includes reading logs, a scavenger hunt, and a blog written by Splish,  the program’s mascot, that will engage kids and keep them reading. They have book reviews and suggestions and the program is adaptable to every age group.  For more info, click here.

If you’d like to create your own summer reading plan you can click here for some great ideas to get you started.

Also, here is a great website that is a year round reading incentive program. Book Adventure has compiled a list of over 7,000 titles that can be sorted by topic or reading level. The student simply signs up, checks the list for a title, reads the book and then goes to the website to answer a 10-question quiz. If they meet the goal of correct answers they earn points that are accumulated toward prizes. There are several nice prizes available and there is also the option of setting up your own prize goals and rewarding your child yourself. They redeem their points from you instead of on the website so you can make the prize whatever you want.

All of these programs have the same goal, to keep your kids reading! So find one you like and get out those library cards!

Happy reading,

–Sheryl

Some Good Old-Fashioned Summer Fun

If you are like me, you are 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 side bars 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 BookAnother 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’s 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 PasttimesFinally, 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 hop scotch, 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.

All three of these titles are available , either new or used, at Amazon.com.  Just click on the book covers or titles above.