February 16, 2015

Project-based Homeschooling: Pottery Class Update

I’ve written extensively about my eight-year-old’s interest in working with clay and his pottery classes. I thought I would update you with some of his latest work from his pottery class this past fall. It was an eight-week class that was extended for an additional three weeks. He had a different instructor this time, which I think was a positive experience because he learned new and different techniques. He learned hand-building and wheel techniques.

I don’t have photographs of everything he made. Here are just a few items, including my favorite sculpture: his two-headed chameleon. What impressed me about this work is that he didn’t copy what the teacher was making — he came up with his own idea. (He told me he changed his mind a few times before he settled on a chameleon.) And then he sculpted it from memory! At home he will usually look up a photo of an animal to draw or sculpt, but in the class, he didn’t have access to the Internet, so he did this from his own knowledge of what chameleons look like. I am not sure I could have done that!

He told me that he sculpted one head, but then at the last minute, he thought, “Maybe I’ll do two heads.” Okay, then! What an imagination! I think it turned out fantastic.

By the way, these photographs were taken with my phone. In my next post, I’ll tell you what my five-year-old and I did while the eight-year-old was in class. :)

 

I love the final product.

Here you can see a few pieces that were made on a potter’s wheel. The tall one on the left was made by a method of stacking more than one pot thrown on the wheel. He also learned about raku firing, which is a Japanese way of firing pottery.  I learned that raku firing does not make a pot safe to eat out of! The two-headed chameleon and the small bowl in the back right of this photo were raku fired. The raku firing can give a pot a metallic look, which can be beautiful.

I especially like that they make him clean up!

He opted to take a break from pottery this spring, but he says he wants to take a summer camp at the pottery studio. Since this is his project and interest, we’ll support whatever he wants to do (as long as we can afford it). I hope he sticks to it, but only the future will tell!

February 12, 2015

Nature Watch: Crazy Abundance of Mushrooms

As a follow-up to my son’s mushroom project, I thought I would share what we found below our deck around a tree stump at just about the same time we were growing shiitake mushrooms. We get a lot of cool mushrooms in our yard, especially in the spring and fall when it’s rainy, but we’ve never seen so many mushrooms as this. It was quite a sight. We have no idea what kind of mushrooms these were. If you have any idea, I’d love to know.

February 9, 2015

Project-based Homeschooling: Growing Mushrooms Update

This is an update to my previous post: Project-based Homeschooling: A Mushroom Project Teaches Mama When to Let Go. That’s a very good post to read if you are having trouble with what seems like unfinished projects or don’t feel your child is going as deep as they can into a project. In it, I explain how my son wanted to grow mushrooms, and we tried a variety of experiments, but we never accomplished his goal. However, that was okay because he was satisfied.

But fast forward to last October when we went to the Makers Faire in Decatur, Georgia. One of the vendors at the fair was 5th Kingdom. 5th Kingdom is a mushroom farm in Atlanta, Georgia, and you should check out their website because I think their business is so cool. I think you can even order some of their products online, but I’m not sure about that. Send an inquiry, if you are interested.

Anyway, when my son saw they had mushroom growing kits, his interest in growing mushrooms came back instantly. Their kits were not expensive, so we bought one of their shittake mushroom kits for him. We all had great fun growing these mushrooms and then cooking with them. It only took about ten days for the mushrooms to grow to maturity, and all we had to do was mist the block while being careful not to spray the mushrooms.

This is the shiitake mushroom growing block right after taking it out of the bag. We had to keep it in the indirect light and elevated so that it wouldn’t sit in the water.

a few days later

ready to harvest :)

Since my sons are picky eaters, they wouldn’t try one, but my husband and I enjoyed them over pasta.

So the eight-year-old got his wish: he grew mushrooms. :)

 

February 4, 2015

Minecraft

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on January 28, 2015.

If you have children, you are probably aware of the video game, Minecraft. I first became familiar with it by reading homeschool e-mail lists. It’s very popular with homeschool kids, and there are even local groups who get together on a regular basis just to play Minecraft together.

The game is open-ended and allows players to build 3D worlds using blocks. The game can be played on many different devices, including a PC, Mac or Xbox. My sons play the Minecraft Pocket Edition on android tablets.

But it’s not just popular with homeschool kids. Over 60 million copies have been sold across all platforms, and Microsoft just bought Mojang, the company who develops Minecraft, in a $2.5 billion dollar deal. I can’t imagine what will come next.

You can play in survival mode where you have to work to find resources that will keep you alive and help maintain the world you have built. Or you can play in creative mode where you have unlimited resources, you can fly, and nothing can kill you. There is also an adventure mode where players play custom maps, but we haven’t got to that level yet, and it’s probably not available in the pocket edition anyway.

I’m not an expert in Minecraft by any means. When I look over my boys’ shoulders as they zoom around their worlds, showing me the incredible structures they have built – such as a house shaped like a wolf, a railroad that goes on forever, treehouses, gardens, underground houses, and the beginning of a big ship – I get a little dizzy and have to look away.

I introduced my eight-year-old to the game a year or more ago because he loves to build things, and he liked it, but after awhile, he lost interest. The game doesn’t come with tutorials, so it’s hard for new players to learn what to do, although there are thousands of tutorials on YouTube. It’s overwhelming sorting through those.

At first I thought my son just wasn’t going to catch the Minecraft fever, but at some point, he wanted to play again, and ever since then, Minecraft has been all the rage in my house. Little brother started playing too.

My boys only get to play about an hour or so everyday, but when they aren’t playing, they make plans about what they will build next. My eight-year-old tells me how he’ll dig for iron or some other material he needs in order to carry out his plans. He has watched a few videos and talked with a friend about the game, but he has mostly learned how to play through trial and error. He is so crazy about the game that he started building a “real life” cardboard model of the little Minecraft character.

By far, I love this video game more than any other game my boys have played on their tablets. It is educational in many ways, but my favorite aspect of it is that my boys are bonding over it.

The game allows multi-players, so with a wifi connection, one of my sons can create a world and then the other boy can find that world in a list, click on it, and voila, they are in the world together. My boys sit together and have collaborated on building large structures. I watched them build a railroad together – one of them would lay down a cement block, and the other one would lay down a track. They spend hours creating intricate worlds, and then when they feel like it, they create a new one.

They have showed me gardens they have planted together and the animals they have spawned. My eight-year-old has one house where his little brother isn’t allowed to go, and younger brother is fine with that. Sometimes I hear them disagreeing over something, but they always seem to resolve the issue on their own.

Once they played hide and seek in the game. My eight-year-old thought it would be impossible for his younger brother to hide from him in Minecraft, but as it turned out, he never found the hiding place, which was down in the water.

Some child experts write that video games or any “screen time” are detrimental to children. It keeps them from interacting with the world, or building real life skills, they say. Perhaps this can happen when children aren’t engaged in any other activities, but I have seen my kids’ imaginations grow through the games they play, and Minecraft has been the best yet. On the contrary to the naysayers, they are constantly interacting, collaborating, imagining new possibilities, and strategizing. If those aren’t real world skills, I don’t know what is.

February 2, 2015

Homeschool: 2nd Grade Mid-year Report

ft. yargo-1Unlike last year, which kept steady, this year’s daily life has endured many interruptions. Because of that, I’ve deviated from our original homeschooling plan, which I wrote about at the beginning of this year in the post 2nd Grade Homeschool Schedule and Curriculum (with Pre-K too!).

Last fall was a bit crazy. We had back-to-back visitors for several weeks, which was a great experience for my boys, but I don’t do formal homeschooling when we have family in town. I also had some unexpected freelance photography work, which I loved, but it made me busier than I wanted to be, considering I was also working for home / school / life magazine, hosting visitors, homeschooling, going to appointments, and keeping house. Don’t get me wrong — I actually enjoyed everything. It was just a little too much all at once.

I was looking forward to having a more leisurely 2015, but if you read my previous post about everything that has happened to us since the beginning of the year, you’ll see that hasn’t happened. Because of all these things, it’s made sense to simplify our homeschool lessons. At least, it feels simplified to me, although the boys are actually doing more work!

After the busy fall schedule cooled down a bit, I felt like my kids were behind in for-lack-of-a-better-word “formal” learning. They had a much richer experience with all the field trips and visiting they did with family, but I still want to keep up with that formal stuff. So, I abandoned our more leisurely pace, and almost every weekday morning that we are at home (and some Saturdays), I have had both boys work through their workbooks, concentrating mostly on reading and math:

  • They are still using the Star Wars workbooks by Brainquest.
    • My five-year-old loves doing his lessons and usually does more than I require. Of course, the preschool and kindergarten workbooks that he uses are fairly easy. Still, I’m impressed that he enjoys doing the worksheets and takes them seriously.
    • I especially like the 2nd grade reading workbook for my eight-year-old. They give him good reading practice, introducing new words and basic grammar concepts. It gives him a lot of writing practice, which he needs. I still go slow, when necessary, and sometimes I only require him to do half a page, but I make him erase any letter he writes wrong and do it again. Together with the extra reading we do, it’s good practice. The math workbook is just extra math practice — it doesn’t actually teach a strategy on how to do the math. He is much more willing to do the work without fuss now (and maybe I’ve learned just the right ebb and flow), which is a difference between now and the beginning of this year, so that’s another reason I’m going ahead and making a push for him to do a little more.
    • Mini review of the Star Wars books: If you have children who love Star Wars and need extra practice with their reading/math skills, then I recommend them. I don’t recommend them as a curriculum by themselves, although the reading and writing workbooks cover all the basics. However, I am sure we’ll be using more resources to hone these skills as time goes by. Since my boys both love Star Wars, they seem to enjoy seeing some of their favorite characters and learning some Star Wars vocabulary. Unfortunately, these workbooks only go through 2nd grade.

What I’ve added

I’ve been thinking, thinking, thinking over the last month and having conversations with my husband. What was I thinking about? That test we will be required to give him (according to Georgia law) next year, in the third grade. I didn’t want my son to take a test without prior experience on test taking. So, I did some inquiries about the tests, and I found the one we might use. I considered ordering it and giving him the second grade version this year. However, it is more complicated than I thought it would be. It costs about $40, we have to order the test, administer it within a few days and then return the package for grading. That felt a little intimidating for just a practice test. So, I went on Amazon, and I searched for practice tests.

  • I ordered Spectrum’s 2nd grade Test Practice, which is supposed to correlate to most state standards. I like it. We only do about two pages per day of the “lessons.” When I come to the end of a section, there are “sample tests” that are a little longer. On these days, that’s all I require my son to do. At the end of the book, I’m going to give him a longer, more comprehensive test over several days, which is provided. The book even comes with answer sheets, which shows him how to fill in those little bubbles.  I also like it because there are test taking clues included in the lessons.

So far, it’s been quite easy for my son to work through this test prep workbook, which gives me confidence that we are progressing quite well! I’m really impressed with how well he is reading! I’m not quite sure what happened. I think at age eight, it has just “clicked.” I still would not call him an eager reader — he doesn’t do it voluntarily. (But that’s because he’s so busy making things. He has different interests, and I’m not worried about that.) When he has trouble, it’s usually because he comes to a word he has never seen before, and I don’t think that’s a big deal. He’s learning more words as we continue with this reading practice.

He doesn’t love the workbook, but he thinks it is easy, and since I’m being lighthearted about it, it hasn’t given him any stress. He knows the purpose is practice taking a test, and we’re learning about what he knows/needs to learn. There is no pressure to get it all right.

What I stopped doing (for now)

  • I stopped using Life of Fred: Dogs for eight-year-old’s math in favor of getting some more practice in that Star Wars workbook. I have also ordered Singapore Math based on recommendations from a friend and some extensive reading I’ve done online. Although I plan to continue to use Life of Fred because my son loves it, and I think it does a good job teaching a lot of math concepts and how math is used in everyday life, I didn’t think it did a good job of helping my son find a strategy of how to add and subtract in his head. So I’m hoping Singapore Math will be a good fit for us. Between the two, he should have a good foundation in math. As I see him increasingly become interested in science/engineering types of activities, I feel it is extra important to make sure he has a solid math foundation.
  • We stopped watching Salsa for Spanish lessons. I will probably continue this at some point, or either find a different kind of Spanish curriculum when I think we are ready for it, but we just got so busy, it was one of the things we dropped.
  • We stopped working through the science experiment book. Again, got too busy, but we’ll probably visit it again at some point. I’m not worried because our family’s daily life and deep interests includes so much science!

What they finished

  • In my first post, I mentioned how my eight-year-old was taking his younger brother through the basic phonic lessons on Starfall.com. They finished that. I do think it was very helpful, and when my five-year-old gets a little older, he might benefit from going through it again. It was a very good review for older brother. ;)
  • My eight-year-old completed his second pottery class this fall (third, if you count the summer camp he took). It was a great experience for him. He has opted to take a break from pottery this spring, but he wants to take one of the summer camps again offered by the pottery studio. Many mornings while he was in class, I took my five-year-old to the botanical garden, and we enjoyed a morning using our sketchbooks. I’ll write about that sometime.

What we continue

  • Like I said, we continue to use Brainquest’s Star Wars workbooks for our basic reading and math lessons, and I added a test prep workbook for my eight-year-old, which has helped me see that we are progressing just fine. The boys also read/listen to books of their own choice as well.
  • I continue to read to them from a book of my choice before our lessons. Although I wanted to use this time to explore literature, it’s hard to pick stories that both ages will engage in. So, currently, I’m reading one of my library book sale finds: World Book’s Childcraft See the World. (2000) It’s a good introduction to the different continents and cultures of this world. There will also be some chapters about map making. Mostly, I’m reading this because it makes a nice compliment to our ongoing study of the world through the many documentaries that we continue to watch everyday.
  • The documentaries deserve a post all of their own, but I did want to mention that lately we’ve been making our way through a series of BBC documentaries on Netflix. Each one focuses on a specific area of the world and has about five 50-minute programs. So far we have watched Wildest IndoChina, Wildest India and Wildest Arctic. What I especially appreciate about these programs are how they touch on the crossroads between the wilderness and humans, sometimes delving into human rituals, religion and the history of the area. It’s been a great learning experience for us all. (There are sensitive issues and history brought up, so preview first, if you think your child would be too sensitive for it.) For those who are interested, I keep a Pinterest board on the documentaries we watch. It’s the only thing I use Pinterest for these days.
  • I still use Fridays as art days! I don’t always do a formal art lesson, but I will be sure to share what we have been doing.
  • Since my son is taking a break from pottery, I have enrolled both my boys in Sandy Creek Nature Center’s homeschool science classes again. (They had conflicted with pottery in the fall, so we took a break from that.)

What has flourished

All last fall, I felt like we were in a “project lull,” and I was missing how frequently my eight-year-old used to come up with ideas to make and build things. I was worried that because I was so busy, I was missing opportunities to support my son’s interests. But now I feel like it was just a lull, and perhaps that is natural once in a while. (It’s not that my son wasn’t being creative at all. He was sculpting cool stuff in his pottery class and still putting together Lego kits. And we did some art projects and other things. He also spent a lot of time studying the Star Wars online encyclopedia — Star Wars seemed like his biggest interest last fall — and I let him do that because I felt like it might lead to something, which it did.)

Around the holidays, my son’s “building instinct” kicked in again, and he’s been working on a few projects. He also received a robotics set for Christmas, and I can’t believe how educational and beneficial this set has been. He’s been teaching himself programming! I’ll be sure to write about that too.

My five-year-old also has been continuing his love of learning about dinosaurs, drawing, painting and now, coloring. We are filling up spaces with his work, and I love it when I find him digging into the paper and markers (his preferred medium). In my constant wonder on how to support his love of drawing, I have inadvertently turned my eight-year-old onto drawing a little more. My five-year-old didn’t care about the how to draw books I had on the shelf for him to find, but my eight-year-old found them, and he’s been using them! More on that to come!

Keeping Priorities

Written out like this, it might seem like our formal learning is very complex and time-consuming, but actually, it doesn’t take too much space in our day. At most, we might spend two hours a day on the workbooks. We might work up until lunchtime, but after that, my boys are free to do their projects and play, which is what I’ve always wanted for them. (No need for rushing to get ready to catch the bus, stand in lines, do homework after an already long day at school, or get to bed early!)

Those two hours don’t include all our home “school,” however. My husband and I read them books, tell them stories, and we watch very educational television together as a family.  We have conversations about people, the world, history and what different people do for a living. We go to outside classes, take field trips, get out into nature (weather permitting) and spend time with friends. Everyday the boys work on their own projects, and I make myself very available to support them, especially in the mornings and right after lunch. So, I still follow my children’s interests, but I keep a small window of time devoted to the fundamentals they would be learning in a traditional school. I don’t want them to get behind in case we ever have to put them in school, although I hope that never happens.

I have been watching my boys blossom as they explore topics and find the things that they are truly interested in. It is not uncommon for my eight-year-old to ask me to write down the spelling of some animal he learned about in Wild Kratts or The Octonauts so that he can go look it up on the Internet and view better photographs of it. They are independent learners, ask questions freely, and they are always telling me their ideas for making this or that. I have seen them create a deep bond together as they play, especially as they strategize about their collaborative building projects on Minecraft! (Stay tuned for a column about that.)

I treasure the time that homeschooling provides for them to do these things.

January 19, 2015

Life’s Bumps

tree-1

If nothing else, I can say that, so far, 2015 has been anything but boring for my husband and me. Where do I begin?

Two days before Christmas, my husband tripped on a heavy box, and he caught himself before he fell, but he must have twisted something pretty bad. At first, he was just sore, but by the end of a week’s time, he could barely walk. We spent the 30th going to doctors and the orthopedic urgent care clinic to get x-rays. Luckily, he had no broken bones.

Despite all the medication he received, including pain and muscle relaxers, the next day his leg locked up on him when he sat down in a kitchen chair. He couldn’t move, and he was howling in pain. After spending time on the phone with our doctor, taking more pain meds, and waiting a while, he still couldn’t move, and he was in excruciating pain. I had to call 911.

I will digress here to say that while the Barrow Emergency guys who came to get my husband were awesome, I was quite unnerved that during my first phone call, the dispatcher could not hear me. I could hear him, but after yelling into the phone, I realized we had a bad connection. On my second call, he could hear me, but another emergency call interfered with my call, and I couldn’t hear him because I could hear another voice – in another call – loud and clear. What the? Fortunately, that passed, and I was able to talk and hear clearly. But I wondered how I would feel if I had been calling because an intruder was in my house? Geez.

So, we spent the afternoon of New Year’s Eve in the ER of Athens Regional Hospital. The experience was not good for my husband, who was hoping for the doctor to find out what was causing the pain. Instead, he had a doctor who didn’t actually visit him until she was ready to send him home, and her bedside manner was lacking greatly. He told me she said that pain wasn’t a reason to admit someone to the hospital (he wasn’t dying, that is), and he needed to go home and deal with it.

Since I was in the cafeteria getting my boys some food, I wasn’t privy to that conversation, but I was surprised they were sending him home in so much pain too, especially after our doctor said he would probably need an MRI. Apparently they don’t do that in the ER. Instead, they gave him stronger pain medication and muscle relaxers, and he was able to walk again, though stooped over and limping.

To make matters more complicated, we had to switch health insurance this year, and that kicked in at midnight on January 1st. We could no longer see the doctor we have been seeing for years, but we felt that maybe the change would be good. So far, it has. We can get our new insurance – Kaiser Permanente – on the telephone so much faster than we could ever get Blue Cross Blue Shield on the phone.

We’ve been impressed so far with the Kaiser facilities and doctors. We got an appointment for my husband right away, and the doctor ordered him an MRI. He had that on Friday, and we’re awaiting the results. We also met our children’s new pediatrician, and I’m doubly impressed that I can actually e-mail him questions!

To add to all these changes and my husband’s pain that won’t go away, we also found out that the school he teaches at will be absorbed by another university. We are uncertain what the future holds for his job, and that stress is worse than the pain. The day after this announcement, my youngest son had a stomach bug, so I was dealing with a lot of throw up too. What a fun week!

But life goes on, and there are some good things that have happened. For example, my son recovered quickly from his bad stomach bug, and no one else in the family caught it. My eldest son has been taking full advantage of the robotics set that several family members pitched in to buy him for Christmas, and he’s been building robots and learning programming all by himself – that kid never ceases to amaze me. I have finally taken time off from freelance projects that kept me way too busy all last fall and before the holidays, and I feel more relaxed despite the problems we are having.

To say I’m worried about my husband is an understatement. He’s in a lot of pain, but I am hopeful that whatever it is, it will heal. I am hopeful that he will at least still have a job by next year when the merger is more complete. If not, we will adapt and change as necessary even though our prospects feel rather bleak right now.

 ###

Since writing this column, we’ve had good news and bad news. The good news is that my husband’s job should be secure for the foreseeable future. The bad news is that his back is pretty damaged, and we will be seeing a neurosurgeon. I have also dealt with a bacteria infection of my own, though thankfully I’m feeling a little better. My spirits are okay, though, since I know this is just life’s bumps. I’m grateful that all of it should pass.

I will be writing some homeschool updates soon.  Meanwhile, I hope you are well.

January 4, 2015

Happy New Year

near Amicalola Falls, Georgia-6

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and are enjoying a bright new year! I had hoped to be writing some mid-year updates in this space by now, but life has thrown some bumps at us. As soon as things settle down, I’ll catch up here. Meanwhile, I hope your homeschool life is flourishing. You can always reach me by e-mail.

December 21, 2014

Happy Winter Solstice!

winter solstice-2

My five-year-old and I made winter solstice trees today with branches, twigs and paper snowflakes. My eight-year-old decided to make a mossy swamp tree! There is moss on its bark and Spanish moss hanging from the limbs (the dried strings of glue were left there on purpose). It even has a dead branch underneath it with red mushrooms growing on it! I love how he gets these crazy ideas and just goes with it!

winter solstice-3

Five-year-old’s tree is on the left. Mine on the right.

winter solstice-1

Close up of eight-year-old’s “swamp solstice tree.” LOL

What are you doing to celebrate the winter solstice?

December 21, 2014

Gift Ideas for Young Kids

Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!

Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 17, 2014.

I was at the hobby store with my boys last week to buy a birthday present for my son’s friend when a woman stopped us to ask advice on getting a gift for a seven-year-old boy. Her son was twenty-six, so she felt out of touch with the younger generation and thought my eight-year-old and five-year-old could help her. Indeed they could, and my eight-year-old was happy to tell her what he liked.

She was specifically asking about art supplies, so first we told her about air dry modeling clay. My boys love playing with this stuff, and I like it so much better than play-doh. My eight-year-old used to watch YouTube videos to learn how to sculpt small things, and later this led to him taking pottery classes, which he still enjoys. After drying this clay will get brittle, and small parts may break, but that hasn’t been a big deal to my kids. One big box of clay is about $8 and lasts a long time.

I also keep craft supplies on hand such as beads, feathers, popsicle sticks and whatnot because my boys love to build things with them, and for my younger son, he likes to take a hunk of clay and stick those things in it. Makes for an interesting decoration.

My eight-year-old’s favorite toy has been Legos, and over the past two years he has gotten all kinds of kits that he will spend hours putting together. Eventually these get taken apart and the pieces get mixed in with other Legos, but I think that’s okay because then my boys begin to use their imaginations and make creations of their own. I think Legos are awesome and educational, and I wish I owned stock in the company.

My five-year-old still plays with our dinosaurs and other animals almost everyday. I think it depends on the kid, if these plastic animals can hold their attention. We have hundreds of them (at least it feels that way), and my son will line them up on the floor as if they will fight each other, or either he’ll make a zoo by setting up our various blocks as pathways and cages for the animals. My favorite brand is Schleich because of the quality.

Another favorite toy are my boy’s remote control monster trucks. I’m not talking about a cheap one though. You need to spend at least $30 to get a good one, and be sure to buy extra batteries as part of your gift because these things suck battery life quickly. (You may need different kinds of batteries for the controller and the car.) However, these toys get my boys outside, and they build obstacle courses for them. Anything that gets them outside and using their brains and creativity is beneficial in my book.

Both my boys enjoy drawing and painting, but my five-year-old especially loves it. I bought him a sketchbook, and I’ve found that to be a great way to contain the hundreds of pages of drawings he can accumulate.

I’m also a fan of quality art supplies for kids because it makes a difference in the experience, and they are more likely to enjoy painting with good stuff. My eight-year-old even commented to me that he noticed a big difference between our acrylic paints and the Crayola washable ones. I think a great gift would be some good watercolor paper and watercolor pencils or quality paints. Good paintbrushes can offset the frustrations that cheap ones can give you when the bristles fall out while painting. You can also have more control over where you want the paint to go when you are using a nice brush instead of the cheap, bushy ones in kid’s sets.

Of course, some kids aren’t going to do anything with these kinds of gifts if they don’t know how to use them. The best way to get a child to be creative and try new things is to do it yourself – without the expectation that the child join you. That’s right. Children rarely want to do what you tell them to do, but they tend to follow you around and want to do what you are doing. So give yourself a gift of some new art supplies or a building set or even an obstacle course with a monster truck and don’t be surprised if a little person wants to join you.

I could have added many more things to this list that foster creativity. What would you add?!

December 13, 2014

Our Favorite Books

Holley Home, Twin City, Georgia

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 3, 2014. Also, unfortunately, the photo is not of my house.

I love to read, but I am the slowest reader you’ll ever meet. Couple that with very little free time, and I don’t have a very long reading list from my past year, but I thought I’d share a few titles I’ve enjoyed and a few of my boys’ favorites too.

“…And Ladies of the Club” by Helen Hooven Santmyer – If you liked Gone with the Wind, you’ll enjoy And Ladies of the Club. It’s a story about several families in a small Ohio town right after the Civil War. It’s about their lives, their mistakes, and their triumphs. It’s a meandering novel that somehow kept my attention through its very human-like characters. It does have a very slow beginning, and I almost gave up on it, but I’m glad I kept reading because once I got used to its pace, I was lost in this little town and its inhabitants. It also delves into the politics of the day quite a bit, which got a little tedious for me, but it showed me that nothing has changed either.

Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson – I felt like I was reading a movie when I read this very light and fun book. It reminded me a little of Sweet Home Alabama, but it’s more intelligent than that. It’s about a woman growing up and making better decisions. It’s about two families who are in in feud, but the main character is an important link between them. It’ll give you a glimpse into what it’s like to live as a deaf and blind person as well as what it’s like for the family caring for that person. It’s very predictable, but if you just want to be entertained, that’s not a bad thing.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – This was by far my favorite book I’ve read this past year. It’s been made into a movie, and I haven’t seen that yet. I want to savor the memory of the book before I watch it. This book is on one level about the immigrant experience, but it’s also a universal story about family and growing up. It spans two generations, but most of the book focuses on the son of two Indian immigrants who settle in America and how he spends most of his life trying to extract himself from his Indian heritage, but as an adult he begins to understand his parents and their experience better. It’s beautifully written, thought-provoking and not predictable. I think any adult could identify with some of these universal themes.

The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. – I’ve been reading this book for research on a magazine article I’m writing, and I have found it fascinating. Unlike other self-help or “how to be happy” books, Lyubomirsky has been studying what really makes people thrive for over twenty years. This book draws on real scientific evidence, and yes, some of it may seem like common sense, but much of it is enlightening. There is a quiz to help a person understand what might work and not work for him because, of course, there is no magic formula on how to be happy. There’s also an excellent chapter on depression and the best therapies that have proven to be the most beneficial for people. Whether or not you consider yourself a happy person, you’ll learn a lot from this book.

Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown – My eight-year-old is in love with all things Star Wars, and this book about a young boy entering Jedi Academy and facing many of the same problems any middle-school student would have has delighted my son. It’s written through the main character’s own comic strips, journal entries, letters and newspaper clippings, which makes it fun. We finished reading it together, and my son immediately asked me to start it again. (I’m happy to discover there is a sequel to this book, and I’ll be ordering it soon.)

My five-year-old doesn’t give me many breaks from reading books about dinosaurs, but thankfully he has a few other favorite books that we’ve read together, oh, 200 times? That’s not much of an exaggeration, and if you’re the parent of a small child, you’ll believe me.

He loves the three-book gift set that we received years ago. The books Little Pea, Little Hoot, and Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace take a spin on those things that all children hate to do such as eat their veggies, go to bed, and clean up their rooms. But in the case of Little Pea, she has to eat her candy, Little Hoot has to stay up all night, and if Little Oink wants to “grow up to be a respectable pig, he has to make a mess, mess, mess.” The illustrations are beautiful, and after reading these books so many times, I still enjoy them too.

I hope you get all the good reading material you want these holidays. Happy Reading.

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