Feed Me Books Friday: Flexing Our Mental Muscles

Friday, August 26, 2011

Creative Calisthenics
Many of us are preparing for or already embarking upon a new school year. I shared recently about my efforts to brush up on B’s preschool skills. I have to admit I felt a twinge of regret when B signed his name to a piece of artwork and I noticed his writing skills had suffered for lack of practice this summer. However, there is something special that makes summer unlike any other time of year, and it’s not just the weather. The break from school, the loosening of routines, and the increase in life experiences all contribute to some cognitive stretches that just might not occur within the day-to-day of the school year.
What If?In my mind, one of the most magical parts of summer is the possibilities. New places to see on vacation, time for relationships to grow, witnessing the growth of a garden, not knowing what to expect is part of the excitement. Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s What if? uses simplicity and suggestion to challenge readers to consider the possibilities and even to create their own version. There are a total of six words used in the story: two are in the title, and the others are and, then, but, and or.  The story (or stories) is based on the premise that a boy playing on the shore loses track of his beach ball and it is enjoyed by two seals. Then, through captivating watercolor illustrations and leading questions, Seeger develops three different storylines. When a third seal comes along, will the first two keep him out of their game, swim away when he arrives, or include him in the fun? While the illustrations will reveal Seeger’s take on each possibility, you’ll enjoy prompting your child to make suppositions about the coming events and their effects before you turn the pages. “What ifs” can become tiresome and grating when you’re the parent who has been responding to them all day, but what-if questions help children develop an understanding of the world around them, determine cause and effect, and build creative muscles as they consider their own version of the results.
Appropriate for: toddlers, preschoolers, primary grades.

photo courtesy RambergMediaImages via Flickr


Feed Me Books Friday: I Spy, In the Rearview Mirror

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two Happy Road-Trippers
Rather than a big summer vacation, we’ve made several shorter jaunts this year – which has meant a considerable amount of time on the road. As a result, I’ve been on the lookout for car-friendly entertainment. Scored a Crayola dry-erase lap board on clearance at Target, found travel scavenger hunt cards in the dollar bin at Joann’s, and we keep the portable DVD charged and stowed under the backseat just in case. But my favorite find this season has been a toy combined with (you guessed it) a book!
Look – in the backseat – it’s a toy, it’s a book, no it’s a lifesaver!
Iplay Peek-A-Boo PackOk, so lifesaver might be a better descriptor for the carseats my kids are riding in, but I really had no idea how cool this would be when I ordered it! I have had my eye on I Play’s Peek a Book Bags for some time now – car toy, church toy, diaper bag toy – many possibilities. Then I as I was checking for new options and price drops, I found the Peek a Boo Pack. It combines the Everything A to Z Peek a Boo bag with a board book in a travel friendly fabric case. The bag is made of cloth with a clear vinyl window. Inside, tiny plastic and rubber objects representing all the letters of the alphabet are hidden among tiny white beads. The user (you’ll find this as entertaining as your child) manipulates the beads by squishing and turning the bag while peeking through the window to find the objects. The book features pictures and rhymes highlighting the hidden items and giving children a master list as well as increased motivation to search for them. We had a blast with it on a recent 4 hour car trip. Not only did we search for the objects as directed by the book, but we made up our own games like who could find objects the fastest, finding objects in alphabetical order, finding an object then identifying its beginning sound, and finding an object then challenging a partner. I also purchased the Language Development Eye Spy Bag; while it does not include a book, it does come tagged with a card giving suggestions for vocabulary building activities like practicing letters, colors, shapes, even prepositions, and pronouns. By having two bags we avoided sharing issues and both are definitely entertaining. Your child can benefit from both the cognitive as well as the physical challenge of finding the objects among the beads. This is an item that will be part of my travel bag from now on – B even asked for one this week during a short ride to the grocery store!
Appropriate for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, primary grades.

photo courtesy M Kuhn via Flickr


Feed Me Books Friday: Learning and Laughing

Friday, August 12, 2011

Less “Lazy Days”
I can’t believe the start of school is less than a month away! I had grand plans for all the academic practice I would do with B this summer to make sure he didn’t slide backward in any of the skills he honed in preschool. What do they say about the best laid plans? That’s not to say he didn’t learn this summer. He’s been a backyard explorer, a road-trip navigator, a shopping assistant, an eager participant in the library summer reading program, and a teacher to his brother. I still want to make sure we brush up on those 3 Rs before kindergarten begins, so I’ve been trying to be sure we include some letters and numbers in our daily play. An easy way to review and refresh is with thoughtful book choices.
Riddle and Review
Q Is for Duck: An Alphabet Guessing GameOne of our summer library finds that was quickly added to our purchasing wishlist is Q is for Duck, An Alphabet Guessing Game, by Mary Elting and Michael Folsom. While the title might sound initially confusing, I’ll bet you can figure it out… How is Q related to a duck? (Quack!) The layout of the book is what really makes it fun. The letter is introduced in one spread with an illustrating clue: “A is for Zoo. Why?” The answer is not revealed until you turn the page, allowing you and your child to make an educated guess at the target word before checking your answer. This is also an excellent opportunity for letter sound practice:
  • Does zoo begin with A?
  • What letter does zoo begin with?
  • What sound does A make?
  • Is there anything in a zoo that begins with A?
  • Do you see anything in the picture that begins with A?

B loves riddles and puzzles, so the Q and A format of the book and the picture clues are really engaging for him. I love that he’s reviewing the letter sounds and exercising those cognitive muscles of deduction.
More Puzzler Practice
A fun craft for letter recognition is the clothespin match wheels by confessions of a homeschooler. Your child can practice lowercase and capital letter matching as well as matching letters to pictures with the beginning sound. Also great for letter sound practice is the alphabet wheel found at a to z phonics where your child can match the letter to a picture beginning with its sound in the window flap. We made both – the turning wheel and opening flaps are a hit, but need to be laminated or made from cardstock (or both) to be durable. The clothespin matchup is fun with a time challenge or as a waiting game. We used smaller size clothespins from the craft aisle at the dollar tree to make less weighty.
Appropriate for: preschoolers, primary grades.
image courtesy Tim Harrison, fotopedia.com


No Excuses!

Friday, August 5, 2011

First off, I need to acknowledge (without excuse-making) my absence last week – did you miss me? No Friday link-up – my apologies to anyone who came looking. I will offer an explanation, not an excuse: life got busy, and my writing, my blog, took a backseat. It was an intentional decision based on my priorities, but disappointing nonetheless. On the bright side, I’m back, life is marginally more under control, and the quiet on the blogging front was not an indicator of the quantity or quality of books we’ve been enjoying.
Worry-wart or Whiner?
I’ve complained vented before about B’s anxious tendencies: everything from refusing to get in the public pool for lessons (while diving to the bottom at home) to fearing costumed characters like Mickey or Smokey the Bear. While I work hard to alleviate his fears with explanation and preparation, a mom can only be SO prepared and can only give up SO much time for negotiation before she goes batty. Of course we like books that help with new experiences, and now is no exception.
Silly Scaredy!
Scaredy Squirrel Makes a FriendMy pick this week hits two REALLY important social-emotional points: some fears, while genuine, are downright unreasonable, AND being open to the unexpected can be very rewarding. Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, by Melanie Watt is centered on Scaredy’s (genuine but unreasonable) fear of being bitten. He is afraid to make friends because they COULD be biters – like beavers, rabbits, or Godzilla. When he discovers a goldfish living nearby, he thinks he’s found the perfect friend: no teeth, not noisy or dirty, very predictable. After creating a detailed plan to win over his ideal friend, Scaredy’s efforts are thwarted by a curious and energetic dog. While initially terrified, Scaredy learns that the pup is not only friendly, but fun. And while he may have germs, teeth, and even a somewhat unpleasant odor, the dog makes an excellent friend. It’s been one of B’s favorite books recently, and I’m hoping the message is sinking in a little. The comical illustrations and quirky squirrel behavior are sure to incite giggles, but if those giggles also diffuse some tension and fear, it’s a double success. I’ve already requested the rest of the Scaredy series from the library – and hoping it makes an impression!
Appropriate for preschool, primary grades.
Tell me this fearfulness and excuse making is just a phase – then tell me what I can do to survive it!

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