Archives for January 2010

What We’re Reading: Favorite Book Series

This week, Emily of The Pilot’s Wife shares her favorite book series with us:

As a  lover of reading, I have to tell you: I love a good series. There are times when I fall so in love with the characters in a particular book that I just hate to let them go after just one book.  For me, a few hundred pages is often not enough, and when I reach the end of the very last book, I go into mourning!  Of course, as a parent and a teacher, that’s exactly how I want children to feel about reading.

I have found that a really good series is a fantastic way to get a reluctant reader interested.  In order for children to improve their reading, they need to be actively engaged in their books.  Reading books that are too hard, too easy, or uninteresting will provide little in the way of improvement.

Luckily, there are some amazing series out there for children, and I want to share a few of my all time favorites with you today.  Some are from my own reading as a child, and others I discovered as an adult.

Little House on the Prairie books–  I know most of you will be familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, but I just had to include them.  I can’t tell you how many times I read these as a child. My copies are completely worn out and thoroughly loved.

The Magic Tree House seriesMary Pope Osborne does a lovely job creating easy chapter books that are still engaging.  Children as early as first grade can enjoy the thrill of “the chapter book” in a format they can read with accuracy.

Cam Jansen Mysteries (David A. Adler) – Cam Jansen is a girl with a photographic memory who always has a new mystery to solve.  These stories are short and sweet.  Great for building comprehension on about a 2nd to 3rd grade level.

Junie B. Jones (Barbara Park) – Junie B. Jones is quite the little imp! Girls and boys alike find her misadventures in kindergarten and first grade completely engaging.

The Babysitter’s Club (Ann M. Martin) – If you were a young girl in the ’80s and ’90s I’m sure you’ve already heard of The Babysitter’s Club! Great stories for girls in the 4th – 6th grade reading level.  There are also The Babysitter’s Little Sister stories for younger girls.  Also, the nice thing about these books is that there are a TON of them, so if your girls love them, they’ll have lots of reading material.

Ramona Quimby (Beverly Cleary) – Ramona is another classic.  Although the heroine is a girl, both boys and girls will love Ramona’s antics.  These are not to be missed!

Although I appreciate good literature, some of the books listed above don’t necessarily fall into that category.  Sometimes it’s important for me to lay aside my ideals about high quality literature in order to get children interested in reading. Do I consider books about underwear-donning-superheros or cartoon characters quality literature?  Not really, but if children never find reading fun, they’ll never move on to the really good stuff.

Mine is such a short list, I know many of you will have your favorite series to add that I missed!

Making Time for Yourself and Your Home

relaxing Photo by the bpp

This week, I am taking a different approach to our weekly Showcase.

Simple Kids reader Christy emailed a question in response to How to Create Flexible Family Routines:

I am new at this whole stay at home mom thing and love your posted routine, but can you shed some light on as to when you have “you” time and “housework” time?

Very good question, Christy!  It’s true that the example of the family routine I shared focuses solely on what the children could be doing throughout the day.  Practically speaking, many of us do need to make a place for the care and upkeep of our homes, and we also need to be proactive in creating a space for attending to our own needs as well.

I’ll begin by sharing how I incorporate time for myself into our daily schedules:

1) Start the day with quiet.

Ideally, I begin each day before my children wake up with time for personal reflection.  This usually means working on a Bible study and praying.  Last December, I ran my first 5K race, and so for several months preceding that, early mornings also included some time to go for a jog.  (Unfortunately, once winter really settled in, I began to neglect this new habit.)

Now that my children sleep until at least 7 AM each morning, getting up before them isn’t quite the sacrifice it once was.  And, of course, things don’t always happen ideally.  Someone gets sick, or I stay up too late the night before, or the alarm doesn’t go off . . . I just try to get back on track as quickly as I can.

2) Incorporate “off-duty” hours.

Whether you are a parent who works in the home or outside of the home during the day, you need downtime.  I find that I need it so much that it is a priority for me to have off-duty hours during which I am not attending to child care, house work, or any aspect of home management.

I personally practice the art of early bedtimes for my children.  Elizabeth Pantley, my favorite author on children and sleep, suggests

Aim for an early bedtime. Young children respond best with a bedtime between 6:30 and 7:30 P.M. Most children will sleep better and longer when they go to bed early.

When my children were babies, they were generally in bed for the night by 6:30.  Now that they are older (five and two-and-a-half), we aim for an 8:00 bedtime.  Once the girls are in bed (not asleep necessarily, just tucked into their beds), I go off-duty.  I have one or two favorite television shows I keep up with, or I might read a book, or catch up on blog reading.  On weekend nights, my husband and I generally watch a movie together.

Early bedtimes might not work for every family, and so I encourage you to examine your family’s schedule and needs and look for small pockets of time when you can find some time for yourself.

3. Retreat weekly.

Sundays are my day off – for the most part.  We attend church services both Sunday morning and evening, but Sunday afternoons are a time of rest for our whole family.  We eat a light lunch after Sunday morning service, and then the four of us settle in for an afternoon of quiet rest, reading, and relaxing.

I have found that giving myself permission to have a day off during the week helps to restore and re-energize me before the new week begins.

I will be the first to admit, however, that I am certainly not the person to turn to for advice on housekeeping. My approach to caring for my home mirrors what Rachel of Small Notebook wrote in My Real-Life, Practical Daily Routine. I stay on top of small chores daily (such as bed making and dishes), and then tackle whatever needs the most attention as I get to it.

Those who like and need more structure may find these resources to be helpful:

Home Sanctuary: A “Real World” Housekeeping Schedule (includes handouts to assess and customize your needs as well as printouts for both at-home and work outside the home parents).

Steady Mom: organization: intentional cleaning (More to come on Jamie’s approach to balancing home and children in my upcoming review of Steady Days!)

The Helpful Housewife: Requested Routines (three downloads with the breakdown of what gets done on what day)

One last link: I was so encouraged by Elizabeth Ester’s thoughts on Do small things right.  It was the dose of perspective I desperately needed this week!

For Christy and others who are wondering how to find the balance in daily routines, I hope these ideas will be a helpful start!

Have you found a good solution for incorporating home care and personal time into your schedule! Please share your wisdom with us today!

What We’re Reading Wednesday: Spotlight on Sandra Boynton

Happy What We’re Reading Wednesday!

I wanted to take a moment this week to spotlight one of our family’s favorite authors.  Our oldest daughter’s fifth birthday is in a few weeks, and I am feeling particularly nostalgic this month.  I’ve been going through old pictures and videos and thinking back on all of the things that have made her earliest years so much fun.  At the top of this list is our collection of books by Sandra Boynton.

Each page of Boyton’s books are filled with animals and incredibly fun and silly stories.  Once you’ve read a Boyton book, there is no mistaking her unique illustrations and engaging way with words.  She is gifted with the ability to turn the most normal and routine aspects of life into absolute celebration!  One of my own personal favorites is Pajama Time, a book which invites us all to “Get yourself set to pajama-dee-bop!”

Our oldest daughter’s first ever favorite book is Boyton’s Moo, Baa, La La La.  The public library we frequented regularly when she was a toddler had an oversized version of Moo, Baa, La La La and Dacey chose it nearly ever week to take home with us.  I even found a picture of her reading it at twelve months:

2-21-06 003a

Another book from Boyton’s collection that is particularly meaningful to me is Blue Hat, Green Hat. Dacey had a severe speech delay in the first three years of her life, and she was extremely non-verbal.  She smiled and giggled a lot when she was happy, but the first time we ever got to experience a full-on belly laugh was when her daddy read Blue Hat, Green Hat to her.  For some reason, this story of the little turkey who just couldn’t quite dress himself the right way amused her so much.  The “Oops!” that punctuates every other page of this book caused her to explode into unstoppable belly laughing every time she heard it.

Other favorites for our family are Doggies, Barnyard Dance, and The Going to Bed Book.

Boyton’s sense of rhythm and rhyme pervades every book, and so it is no surprise that she some of her books come with accompanying CDs.  In 2009, Boynton released One Shoe Blues – a storybook, song, and musical short film featuring legend B.B. King (and lots of sock puppets).  You can read more (and watch videos!) about One Shoe Blues at Boynton’s website.

There is little doubt why six of Boyton’s books appear on the Publisher’s Weekly All-Time Bestselling Children’s Books list!

In our part of the world, winter lacks color.  Bring some much-needed color and fun and silliness into your home with a selection from the Boyton collection.  I promise you there will be smiles all around!

Does your family have a favorite Sandra Boynton book or story you would like to share?