August 14: SK Showcase

Oh, how often those best laid plans to go awry!  Our household has been hit with several maladies this week, and though the end is in sight, we are definitely still fighting through the sickies.  I’m sharing only a showcase this week, but I am hoping to get some great links together for next week.

This week’s Showcase is from Wesley Jeanne of Mountain Mama.

This summer we did not really plan many formal/organized activities (for several reasons; if you’re interested I blogged about that here). Because of this, my five-year-old, Owen, has had large chunks of time to fill on her own. She did so beautifully, I think, by paper-crafting.

You see, many of the really messy art supplies we keep in the top of the closet, safely away from the hands of Owen’s two-year-old sister, Barrett. We did put a few safer supplies in a rolling four-drawer cart for Owen: colored pencils, crayons, markers, kid scissors, stick glue, string, paper plates, white paper, construction paper, pipe cleaners, a ruler, etc.

She has taken these things and worked for hours, sometimes days, creating. Dinosaurs, ducks, dragons, even an entire Savannah filled with antelope, zebra, elephant, and giraffe. She’s created houses, animals, books, banners, costumes, puppets, and creature after creature, all with paper, scissors, tape, glue, some cardboard from the recycling bin, and her imagination.





Click here to read more about Owen’s creations.

Do you have something you want to share with the Simple Kids community in an upcoming Showcase?  Read the Showcase FAQ here for inspiration on what you might like to share, and email your submissions to me at simplekidsblog at gmail dot com.

Feel free to share your favorite links of the week in the comments section!

What We’re Reading Wednesday: August 12th

Welcome to this week’s edition of What We’re Reading Wednesday!

This week marks the inaugural column written by members of the Simple Kids Book Review Team. I’ll be sharing more information with you about our review team later this week. Each Wednesday, these children’s literature enthusiasts will share a book review for SK readers in one of each of these age groupings: birth and toddler, preschool, early elementary, and upper elementary.

I am so grateful that these amazing women have volunteered time out of busy schedules and active lives to introduce to you some of the finest books in children’s literature!

Birth to Toddler

from Kelly (Notions & Threads)

daddykissesIt’s all about daddy in our house right now. I took advantage of my 13-month old son’s rare “Mama” babbling the other night to ask him, “who’s your best buddy all day long?” His answer? “DaDa!” Oh well.

One of our favorite books right now is all about daddy too. It’s entitled Daddy Kisses by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben and we first heard it during baby-and–me story time at our local bookstore. This small board book shows how six different animal daddies kiss their babies and ends with “my daddy kisses me all over.” The illustrations are simple, warm paintings and give young babies and toddlers one clear image to focus on.

What I love about this book, other than the amount of cuddling it calls for, is that it also provides an opportunity to teach your child body parts like nose, neck, and ear. Our favorite page shows a daddy squirrel giving his baby “a kiss on the paw.” My son holds his hand out so that I can kiss it—even if I’m not his best buddy – DaDa. This book is part of a series of “Mommy” and “Daddy” books like Mommy Hugs and Daddy Cuddles that share the same simple, comforting messages illustrated with different animals that are familiar and inviting to young children.


from Amy (Girlfriends Get Real)

harrietyoulldrivemewildMy first introduction to the wonderful author Mem Fox came through the book Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! As a mother of three young girls, the title made me curious. When I looked at the illustrations I knew we needed to add this book to our home library. My three year old resembles Harriet in looks and in actions.

This book is a favorite in our house. My girls giggle at the trouble Harriet gets herself into. The illustrations by Marla Frazee perfectly portray how Harriet’s mischief is so innocent in her eyes.

“Harriet Harris was a pesky child. She didn’t mean to be. She just was.

Harriet’s mischief starts with little things like spilled juice and jelly on her pants. Her mother’s impatience starts to grow as her antics get sillier. Finally her mother puts her down for a nap. Harriet decides she is not tired so instead she has a pillow fight with her puppy. Her mother’s patience grows thin when feathers are flying everywhere.

Her mother yells and Harriet cries. Both are feeling very bad about their behavior. They both apologize and then they both start to laugh at the very big mess.

This book is a wonderful reminder that sometimes, even in the middle of the mess, we need to laugh.

Early Elementary

from MJ (turnitupmom)

With school just around the corner, I wanted to share a book that communicates an invaluable life lesson: It’s okay to be different.  In fact, in the case of Odd Velvet by Mary E. Whitcomb, different is fun and inspiring.

oddvelvetAccording to her classmates, Velvet is odd.  From the moment that she hands her teacher half a sparrow’s egg on the first day of school, Velvet’s peers perceive her as strange.  She wears hand-me-downs, brings a milkweed pod for show and tell, and carries a used brown paper lunch bag.  Velvet plays alone on the playground until, one day, she wins the school drawing contest with a mere eight crayons.  Gradually, Velvet’s classmates are drawn to her creativity, and when Velvet hosts an original, imaginative birthday party, everyone begins to emulate her innovative ideas.

One thing I absolutely love about Velvet is that although she is perceived as odd, Velvet is perfectly content with who she is.  She isn’t a wallflower, sulking in a corner, feeling sorry for herself.  Through Tara Calahan King’s exaggerated illustrations, we come to love Velvet’s oversized glasses and sweeping smile.  Velvet doesn’t, for a moment, miss out on life.  Rather, her classmates miss out on her friendship.

As parents, I don’t think that we can over-emphasize tolerance- respecting the unique personality, background, beliefs, and talents of every human being.  As many of our children enter new environments this fall, they will inevitably encounter children who are different. Odd Velvet offers parents the perfect opportunity to launch into a conversation about respect and friendship.  From Velvet, we learn that different is not weird, strange, or even odd.  In many cases, different is fun, exciting, ingenious, and inspirational.  Even as adults, we often admire and wish to befriend people who are different.  Why?  Because they have something special to offer the world.  I whole-heartedly believe that reading and talking about this universal theme encourages children to respond with empathy and an open heart when they encounter someone who deviates from their perception of “the norm.”

Before school starts, read this book alongside your child, and when you are finished, draw something beautiful with a box of only eight crayons.  Let’s honor all of the “Velvets” in our lives.

Upper Elementary

from Diana (HOLES in my Shiny Veneer)

idabMy first pick for What We’re Reading Wednesdays just had to be Ida B… and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan as it’s the best book I’ve read all year.  Ida B Applewood is just the girl Richard Louv would love to meet, since she spends every moment possible either planning to be outdoors or actually being there.  In fact, Ida B spends so much time outside in the brook, on the mountain, and in the orchard that her family’s apple trees all have names and personalities for her.

It is in one of Ida B’s frequent conversations with her apple tree friends that she first learns that life has new plans in store for her.  Whereas up until now her idyllic days had been full of homeschooling and hours outside, Mama’s diagnosis with cancer will change all that.  Mama’s aggressive treatment means that Ida B has to return to public school, or as Ida B calls it, “that Place of Sure Body-Cramping, Mind-Numbing, Fun-Killing Torture.”  Even worse, in order to pay the medical bills, Daddy has to sell some of their land to be developed, meaning that some of her apple trees will be sacrificed.

What makes Ida B such a singular character in kid lit is not her communication with her tree friends or her precocious speech, but the internal changes that happen as life changes all around her.  Some may quibble that Ida B overreacts, but in her despair, Ida B reacts as any smart and sensitive fourth grader might:  she decides that the only just resolution is that her parents learn that they are to blame for her anger and misery, so that things can go back to the way they were.  She comes to the decision that she must turn her heart into a rock and shut out all love until Mama and Daddy see the error of their ways.  With her goal of returning to homeschooling, Ida B enters Ms. W’s delightful 4th grade class determined not to enjoy a single minute of it or make any friends.  To get her family’s land back, Ida B puts every ounce of energy into scaring off the new neighbors (her classmate, Claire, and her family.)

Hannigan gets Ida B to eventually see the wreckage she has created by isolating herself and lashing out at all who would love and comfort her, but it is not an easy process for Ida B.  There is no big hug-and-kiss scene, either with her parents or her classmates.  It is Ida B’s painful and slow growth that makes this book so real:  Ida B’s raw emotions will leave a lump in the throat of any reader who has ever been angry at the unfairness of life.

Happy reading, everyone!

From the Archives: Teaching Your Kids -Without Them Knowing They’re Learning

It’s Back To School week here in our state (yes, already!), and our four year old is starting Pre Kindergarten this year, so all things school and learning are definitely on my mind.  I wanted to reach back into the archives again to re-run this article Joan wrote on incorporating learning into every day activities with your children. Enjoy!

Empty Classroom

I have two kids that learn in entirely different ways. My son is our first-born and he lives to learn the ins and outs of anything that strikes him as interesting. His curiosity drives his intelligence. A running joke in my family involves him, at the age of 3, telling my uncle, “YOU HAVE TO EXPLAIN THESE THINGS TO ME!”

Then, there’s my daughter. She’s just as smart, but she’s all about theatrics. We’ll sit down to learning time, and she acts like all of the information is bouncing off of her and nothing is learned. Then we’ll overhear her and her brother talking in the other room; she reveals that she knows far more than what she lets on… usually more than I was trying to teach her in the first place. When you try to teach her in the traditional sense, I guess it’s not dramatic enough. She’s something else.

This post is for everyone, especially those in my position with a kiddo that requires an alternative course of action. “Strategery” if you will. I want to have our learning time, but not with her getting her “I dunno” act together beforehand. I’ve found multiple ways to do this.

Regular Activities with Learning Potential

• Cooking: Your kids can greatly benefit from helping you in the kitchen. Almost every measurement involves a fraction and a parts-of-the-whole mentality. If they’re not ready for fractions, it’s still an opportunity for them to enhance their familiarity in general and grasp the idea that numbers come together in many different ways.

The ingredients in your kitchen alone broaden the educational possibilities You can go into the nationality of the different foods you eat on a regular basis. Bring out a cookbook to show them what foods look like if you don’t have them on-hand. If you don’t already, designate separate fruit and vegetable drawers, and ask your child to help you unpack groceries to introduce or practice categorizing.

Things have changed so much since I was little, but I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a daily sheet – or optimally a dry-erase version – of the food pyramid and have the kids check off what we’ve had after every meal or snack. I’ve never done this, but I think it’d be great for categorization and health consciousness from an early age.

With great care, have ice and water and boiling water close by, and tell your kids that it’s all made from the same thing if they don’t already know.

Sensory Education: Have taste tests. Blindfold your kids and have several samples for them to taste. See if they can tell. Then, switch them up or replace them completely and have them smell or feel samples to see if they can identify the food or drink. My brother and I used to do this, and it was one of the greatest things I remember doing at home when I was little… free, innocent fun.

If you brave the grocery store with your kids, ask them if they’ll fetch things close to your basket while you decide on another nearby item. They’ll have to combine several descriptors to find the right product, and if nothing else, they’ll find it by deductive reasoning… even if it’s you telling them it’s not right until they find it.

• Laundry: I guess categorization is the key element here. Have your kiddos separate dirty laundry into light and dark, or have them separate clean laundry into each family member’s own pile. If you think of any more, tell me. I need as much help as I can get in keeping up with our laundry.

• Let your kids feed or help feed the animal(s), and put it on their chore chart. Responsibility is a huge lesson for every child to learn. We’re planning on getting our son a fish. We will explain to him that the fish will live if he feeds him regularly, but we’re not going to help him. This may sound harsh, but if the fish dies, hopefully it’ll be a lesson learned. If you’re a member of PETA, I’m talking about sea kittens.

Games and Activities That Teach

I love playing games with the kids. I think they all have some level of education, but there are a few that really stand out.

Mouse Trap: I love this game. Our daughter got it for her birthday recently, and I was thrilled. This game actually has a lot of educational components. First, you have to assemble the whole contraption by following written and illustrated directions. If you haven’t played the game in twenty years, it even takes an adult a few moments to wrap their minds around the whole thing. The most useful components, to me, are both the lesson of cause and effect, and the introduction of chain reactions. Cause and effect is everywhere, but maybe when you are trying to describe it later when teaching in written form, you can refer back to Mouse Trap. That may be a stretch, but I can see myself using it!

Battleship: Our son recently started playing this game and it’s great for a youngster. Without them knowing it, the point of this whole article, they are learning how to read a grid. You need that skill your whole life, and in many cases it serves as the foundation of an entire discipline of math. The fact that this game so effortlessly makes the skill accessible to very young children is incredible to me.

Perfection: This game pushes your kids to recognize shape and spatial orientation. Once they can get all of the shapes into the correct places, then they begin to push themselves to improve their time. Their reaction time. When you see or hear your child saying that they’ve improved their time and are getting faster, it’s easy to assume the basic shape recognition aspect of the game has been mastered.

• For reading children, I think Scattegories is perfection for words: If your child can read and write, it’s never too soon to introduce this game. It’s highly probable that early readers and writers will benefit more from the game without the timer involved. Almost identically to Perfection, Scattegories offers evidence of vocabulary growth and advancements in writing skill when the timer becomes more fun than frustrating to your child.

• Any sport: Let them pick, or if they are indecisive, you pick. Whichever, they need the hand-eye coordination. The forethought that comes with athletic experience is irreplaceable; when you’re able to predict what another player or person will do and it becomes instinctive, a very valuable skill has been acquired. Whether you want to or not, think of how your kids will eventually assume the position behind the wheel of a car… having them conditioned to “keep their heads on a swivel” will come in pretty handy. I know that babies can’t really benefit from a tennis racket right now, but rolling a ball to a toddler or even pre-toddler will benefit their growth tremendously.

• Felt boards, Easels, Chalkboards, Dry-Erase Boards: All of these outlets give an open door to whatever the child’s imagination can muster. When you make or buy a felt board, gather a wide variety of colors in sheets of felt (I think they’re about $0.10 each) and ask your children what they’d like. Go ahead and make numbers and letters and the shapes associated with what you know they’re “into” and let them be the sounding board for subsequent shapes and themes.

My daughter and I just went to the craft store and stocked up on beads. She has made necklaces and bracelets before and loved it. I figure her enthusiasm for the activity serves as a great opportunity to introduce patterns into the (under the radar) curriculum. I mention this to be used as a template. Take into account their favorite activities that wouldn’t normally be seen as educational, then find a way to make them so.

My son is in Kindergarten at a public school and I follow his daily work closely. None of what he brings home is beyond what his little sister is capable of, and it encourages me to push her without her feeling the pressure.

The common factor in all of these activities: you know they’re learning, but they only know that they’re either being involved with your usual activities OR having fun like they do best. There’s no asking, “What is…?” There’s no pushing your child for an answer if they’re not inclined to offer one on their own. My daughter has gotten better about offering answers, but only after I stopped quizzing her for them.

All children are different, but I hope this gives you a little help, an encouraging voice, or just a different perspective.

Do you find these helpful? Can you see these ideas helping in your kids’ learning or retention style?

August 7th: SK Showcase and Weekend Links

This morning concluded the drawing to win a copy of Amanda Blake Soule’s Handmade Home.  The winner is Kristie who commented on July 30th and said: “My fave project lately has been involving my 3-year old in making sheets for his “big boy bed” which really helped ease that transition. He loves helping me use my ‘sewing factory’!”  Congrats, Kristie!  If you haven’t already, make sure you read Tsh’s interview with Amanda Soule at Simple Mom.  Tsh is giving away two copies of Handmade Home and you still have time to enter!

This week’s Showcase comes from Wesley Jeanne of  Mountain Mama:

We live in the Blue Ridge mountains of Western North Carolina, in a place filled with clear streams, rocky rivers, deep woods, and abundant natural beauty. Needless to say we spend much time outdoors. One of my five-year-old daughter, Owen’s favorite things to do outside is go fishing with my father. I wrote about her first time (when she was four) on my old blog Blue Ridge Dreams.

Fishing provides my daughter even more than a way for her to connect with nature. It gives her a connection to the past (I grew up fishing with my father in the shadows some of these same hills). It provides her a close connection with extended family (she recently fished with both her grandfather and uncle). It gives her confidence and knowledge of her own abilities (on the recent trip with Grandpa and Uncle Stephen, Owen was the only one who caught anything, landing and reeling in two beautiful trout by herself). And it gives her an understanding of the source of her food (my father showed her how to clean her catch and fry it for dinner for us all). Connections and skills she will, hopefully, carry with her for a lifetime. I love that.

(fishing as a four year old last year)dsc_0097

this year’s catchdsc_0014nef


And now, your weekend reading:

Simply Practical

DPS: How to Photograph a Child’s Birthday Party
Simple Nest: Framing Family Memories
Crunchy Domestic Goddess: Turning back-to-school lunches green
the Little Stuff of Life: Traveling with children

Simply Delicious

FIMBY: Baked Beans
dinner with Julie: Cold-Brewed Coffee (via Under the High Chair)

Inspiring Projects

notions & threads: Easy Toy Bag for the Car
Sew, Mama, Sew!: Easy Hand Sewing for Kids – Early Years
The Wonder Years: Preschooler “work”
angry chicken: coloring work

Inspiring Images

kids + other pets: pooka-la-la
Sensible Living: Empathy Poster take two

Inspiring Words

Daisy Yellow: How to Micro-Manage Kids’ Art
Zen Habits: The Little But Really Useful Guide to Creativity
Simple Mom: The Great Myth
New Mommy Help: Feel Like A Failure? We All Do.

Wow!  Sorry for the reading overload.  I guess I am making up for the lack of links last week.

Finally, tomorrow (August 8th) is The Great Kindness Challenge: ” . . . one day devoted to performing as many acts of kindness as possible.”  What a great day and a great way to lead our children (or be led by them!) on the path of kindness.  Thank you, turnitupmom, for the link!

Slipping From Their Shells


They are everywhere in our yard right now – the crinkly, crumbly shells left behind by the masses of cicadas that sing to us from sun up to sun down. (I grew up calling these “locust shells,” but I’ve recently learned that is not entirely accurate.) One evening our family was outside after dinner, and I made mention to my husband that though there are scads of shells all over – on the house, on trees, in the grass – that I had never actually seen a cicada slipping out of its shell.

“Do they only shed their shells at night?” I asked.

“Well, think about it,” he answered.  “It’s the moment when it is at its most vulnerable.  It needs to know it’s safe before it starts to shed.  It probably feels the safest at night.”

As I’ve picked cicada shells off of the tree bark and out of the vine bed, I’ve thought about how much change one summer can bring. When I was teaching, I was always surprised when school began to see the differences the students brought with them as they sauntered back into the building.  They were usually taller, most often had different hair styles, and almost always bore evidence of time in the sun.

But there were other changes, too.  A seventeen year old boy can grow in surprising maturity from the end of May to the end of August.  A whirlwind of life changes always seemed to have happened in the swirling social lives of the girls I taught.  Very few of my students came back for a new school year as exactly the same person they had been when last they left.

As I recall, this was true when I myself was a student.  That was part of the thrill of Back to School – discovering what had changed for my friends in the three months we had been apart.

I think, however, that it’s harder for me to see the changes in my own children, the ones who are constantly slipping from their outgrown skin right before my eyes. Sure, I can detect some physical differences.  My oldest daughter has outgrown the shoes that were comfortably fitting back in the spring, and my younger daughter is just now filling out the 2T clothes I had pulled out of the storage bins in May.  But if I stop and think about it, there are certainly other ways they have changed in the past few months.

Our “baby” is suddenly insistent on independence – from graduating from diapers (almost) to dressing herself.  All of that is quite appropriate for a little one approaching two, but it seems like there has been a definite surge recently.  Our four year old’s artistic abilities have exploded.  It seems like just a few weeks ago, she had just begun to draw the most primitive of people, and suddenly her drawings are now incredibly detailed.

I have to think there is something about a few months in the safety of home – in the break from routine and obligations that summer invites us to accept – that allows children to feel protected as they emerge from what has been outgrown. Change always means vulnerability, doesn’t it?  What a privilege to offer a safe place for growth in our homes, even if those changes are so subtle we have to squint to see them clearly.

As summer begins to wind down, take a moment to take note of the shells this summer will leave behind.

What changes have you observed in the children in your life in the past few months? Will they move forward into the fall a little bit different from the person they were in the spring?