Children’s Literature: an aside for the reader:

A brief note to blog followers: I recently started training for a new position and am traveling all over for training. My family and I have been adjusting to the new routines, and additionally, we lost a very dear family friend to cancer last week. I intend to keep going with my blog plan and children’s story, but I apologize for the inconsistency these last couple weeks!

I need to backtrack in my story a little bit. I don’t think I need to remind anyone that its a rough draft– but if you’re new to this blog  you may want to take note: the story will come together and make sense in the end! Its about a little girl that wants to write her travel memoirs, and turn them into a story so she can win a writing contest and use the prize money to go to Italy. Her parents teach her to be grateful for all the places she has been already and to use those places as inspiration. Each post is a vignette for the book, and being a picture book it will have to be simplified into shorter, less descriptive stories put together as a series. Each book in the series will end with the girl having learned not only new facts about the places she’s been, but having a fuller understanding of the creative process of making a story, and lastly, each book will end with her family being inspired by her and drawing closer together.

Having said that, I now go back to a couple posts ago when I mentioned mother and daughter looking at the family scrapbook together. Mother has written vignettes, or memoirs about the places underneath the photos. The first place they look at is Costa Rica– having been the girl’s first trip outside the U.S. As a writer, I wrestled with moving forward with the plot, versus spending time on detail. I now see that this will work itself out if I end the first book with the girl reading her mother’s descriptions in the scrapbook, comprehending the definition of “Memoirs” and desiring to write her own memoirs. In this way, the first book encompasses the desire to go to Italy, introduces the challenge into the plot, requires a change in the main character’s perspective, brings her closer to her mom through the scrapbook, gives her a clue about the role her shoes played in this adventure, and deepens her mental image through both facts and feelings of a place she has been: Costa Rica.

Featured

Learning Together on the Go: Part 2

by Wendy Kullman

washington&moscow-339

Devise a strategy not to use your “devices” on the trip! How do you feel after a day of working on the computer? Why subject your child to that?

Normally family schedules make it hard to sit down and tutor your kids, but car rides are a great time to make up for that!  A family vacation, or any trip together can be seen as a time for developing deeper family relationships. Make it happen!

Here are some strategies that I hope will accomplish both learning and togetherness– MISC. as in miscellaneous (with lots of m’s): Manipulatives, Math, Music, Manners, Memories, Imaginative play, Stories, Cards.

Manipulatives:

Here are some fun, non-messy hands-on activities your children can be doing while you’re on the road:

Travel Tangoes: These are magnets shapes that can be made into all different animals or other patterns. They come with only a small number of peices (only about 6 per set) and a magnetic board with flaps that show different patterns to create. The answers are on the back of each flap. These have kept our children entertained quietly in the car, and we have also brought them to a wedding reception and a concert. We were able to interact quietly, helping our kids, while stimulating our brains and theirs! Really works well for all ages! (Except children who are young enough to put them in mouth.)

Magnet letters: bring your refrigerator magnet letters and an old square shaped cookie tin. Keep the letters in the tin, and children can use them to practice sounds with you or write messages with them. Not good for children under three of course.

Learning Palette: This manipulative “toy” by Usborne  is the FUN, HANDS ON, SELF-CORRECTING learning game that teaches essential grade-appropriate skills without batteries or electricity. Covering addition all the way to algebra, it meets the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards. Each card is self-correcting. You can buy sets for reading or math skills. You really have to see it to believe it– click here for demonstration!

Interactive Math:

When I was growing up, my uncle would always quiz my cousin and I on math facts in the car. I was always inclined to write down the problems, but now with the Singapore method used in many schools, children can learn to solve problems in their head much more reliably. We always did counting with our two year old in the car– it was a good time to work on memorization of any kind. Normally family schedules make it hard to sit down and tutor your kids, but car rides are a great time to make up for that! Flashcards can help too.

Music:

You don’t want to be singing “Old Mac Donald” over and over again. Nor is resorting to the radio a good idea. So plan ahead! Go to your library and check out a bunch of children’s CDs, classical music, and songs you all can learn from. I always enjoy getting foreign language CDs designed for learning, because we can all practice together, and sing together!

My advice is to intersperse music with other interactive games and learning activities, so that you’re not relying on music and get some peace and quiet. There are times when children just need to let it out, so use those times to introduce new music!

If your child plays an instrument, make them practice at intervals during the trip. We take my daughter’s violin and have her play for relatives; but we’ve also had her play at an outdoor picnic area at a rest stop, and at the oil change place while waiting. These kind of situations challenge the child to recall and utilize their skills in interesting situations. It’s refreshing to hear music in these otherwise boring places, and we always get applause!

More M’s to follow!

Featured

“Are We There Yet” Prevention, Learning on the Go! Part One

IMG_5948

“Are we there yet?” are four words that parent’s ears should not have to deal with when traveling. And likewise, day trips to museums and cultural places should be filled with excitement and anticipation! Read on to see how to make these statements as reality in your family!

Stamps, stickers and passports:

Kids love to feel like grown-ups! Just like us, they love rewards and a sense of completion. These rewards should not be treats or toys; they should be acknowledgements. In fact, it makes sense to reward them for achievements outside of school; this way they understand that focus and discipline can help us in every day life!

When Sophia was at White Pine Montessori school her first year of preschool, they made a mock passport with her photo in it. I never dreamed how handy something like that can be! Here are some new ways you can use this idea:

  • For each trip you go on, whether its abroad or near home, make a mock passport.
  • for a long car trip, give them a sticker or stamp for each hour spent reading or learning in the car. (More tips on car learning time to follow)
  • Use rubber stamps or stickers to represent places they go. Some museums might use stamps or stickers for admission. You can ask someone to stamp their “passport”– they’ll probably be delighted to!
  • If you go to a cultural event, find a stamp or sticker that would represent that country. For instance, our 4 H group hosted an international night, and each child had a mock passport. Our group represented the Netherlands, so we used a windmill stamp.
  • If you can’t afford stamps, why not write something like “Hello” or “Welcome” in that language on their passport along with the name of the country.
  • Not traveling abroad? Get stickers of all 50 states, and use them, whether you’re on an adventure or just visiting the grandparents. I would love to have an accurate record of all the states I’ve been to throughout my life!

Learning Toys:

If you’re going to reward them for learning in the car, on a camping trip, or on the way back from a day trip, you need to provide them something to work with! My next post will continue this theme with some good suggestions for learning toys!

Featured

Children’s Literature: Chapter 6: Memories

_MG_1052 (1)

As they sat down at the outdoor cafe to eat lunch, Sophia pulled out a notebook and began writing. “Mamma,” she said, “I’m writing down things I remember. My scrapbooks helped, and even my dreams last night helped me remember places I’ve been. It was so fun looking at the scrapbooks with you yesterday!”

“I remember eating outdoors at a cafe like this when we lived out West. Daddy did a painting of me outside the little ice cream shop there. And we went to a children’s store nearby where we got little purple and yellow boots for me. You even wrote something in the scrapbook about those shoes being from France. And I remember that little French girl wearing a beret. She had to have been the owner of my old shoes– she must have brought them to the consignment store. After all, they were French shoes. I remember playing with her and looking at musical instruments at one of the stores. And eating ice cream outside with her. Her mom was looking at Daddy’s art work.”

“Hmm… all those memories are from when Daddy worked in Pullman, Washington. I think you remember more than I do,” Mamma said. “Or you are just imagining it. But I was three when my parents took me to France on a business trip, and I remember a lot too.” Mamma said

“You’ll have to tell me all about it,” Sophia said. “I want to write a story about the little French girl, so I need to know more about France!”

“What about Italy?” Mamma asked?

“It’s just like you said, Mamma. I need to start with something familiar. You were in France, and I got to meet a girl from France. There’s a story here and I am going to write it!”

Featured

Thermal Cooker: Energy Efficient Slow Cooking– At Home, Traveling, or Camping!

Wow! I keep seeing all the face book pictures of children going back to school (I actually get teary eyed looking at other people’s kids starting a new year of school!) Here in Illinois, the weather went from hot and sticky, to cold and rainy overnight. First, you wish summer would last forever, then you get the urge to go apple picking, and next you’re craving heartier meals and thinking about your favorite fall recipes. At least that’s how I am. Our bodies do need a little more sustenance as the weather changes, and most people spend  more time in the kitchen– which adds to the electric bill. My husband and I discovered thermal cookers (non-electric slow cookers) about eight years ago, and it’s a great way to save energy, and perfect for taking on the road, or even just to visit friends for dinner! Here’s an example of one: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wwwlittleshoe-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00EI643D2&asins=B00EI643D2&linkId=37OGTT4KQF4HC6IU&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>Thermos Shuttle Chef

Primitive societies discovered how to get a pot of food boiling over a fire, then place a lid on it and bury it underground, where the temperature is retained and it continued to cook. Go into an Asian store and you can usually find a modern thermal cooking system. It’s an inner pot that fits into an outer thermos with a handle. Essentially, a slow cooker that doesn’t need electricity!

We’ve brought our “Cook and Carry” with us to friend’s houses, pot lucks, concerts in the park, and of course, camping! People always ask me, “how long does it keep things warm?” I always smile because that’s not the right question to ask! “No,” I say, ” We actually cook our food in this. Then we bring it with us. It is not just staying warm, it’s cooking. When it’s ready, we eat it!”

Yes, you can take a small chicken, throw some onions, carrots and rosemary or tarragon (love it!) on top, fill it with water up over the food, bring it to a soft boil, put the lid on. Take it off the stove after it has reached the soft boil, and put it into the outer container, flip the lid, and voila! Six hours later, you have a finished meal! If you’re skeptical, bring a thermometer and check the meat temperature! Be sure to bring a stainless steel ladle too– I’ve ended up somewhere with plastic silverware and paper plates, but nothing to serve the food with. Be sure to bring bowls too; we usually take stainless steel bowls for camping and other activities. You will want to enjoy the broth from the food along with it, and paper plates just don’t work for that!

If you’re at a campground, you can use the thermal cooker over a propane stove. You can start oatmeal the night before and have it ready the next morning! You can start lunch before you leave for the day’s activities and leave it in your tent (it’s sealed) to come back to. Or you can bring it with in the car.

Or you can start it on your stove at home– it makes preparation easy if you’re invited for dinner. (I can actually get the kids ready, clean the house, or get myself ready without having to keep an eye on the stove.) I don’t have to worry about transferring it into another dish to bring, because it just stays in the pot. By the time we drive to our destination, socialize for a while, and sit down to eat, it’s ready! You can make side dishes or main courses– I will include some recipe ideas next time!

Here are some new thermal slow cookers I would like to purchase, although our old one still works fine, I like the innovations of these newer ones!

I like this one, not just for the color, but the size of it, and the great reviews it got (five stars), and the cost. It’s made by Thermos, the same brand as my first one: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wwwlittleshoe-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00EI643D2&asins=B00EI643D2&linkId=37OGTT4KQF4HC6IU&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>Thermos Shuttle Chef

It comes in a smaller size too, and is very economical compared to some of the other brands listed on Amazon. Here is a link to some other brands available: non-electric slow cookers

Stay tuned for those fall recipes!!!

Camping with Little Ones: What to Bring for Bugs

Camping always brings a sigh of relief for me. Living outdoors is refreshing. We’ve taken both our children camping when they were just four months old. I think that the biggest challenge is figuring out what to bring and getting into the car. Children always seem to sleep soundly outdoors, as I mentioned before– which was a big plus for me! And they are just fascinated with natural things; especially textures like rocks, sand, pine cones, feathers. They seem happier than ever to be outdoors, and that gives parents what they most need too– a carefree feeling!

Since the biggest hassle is what to bring and what to leave behind, I’ll have some recommendations for cooking, bug repellent, sleeping arrangements, and baby gear.

Bugs!

We’ve only had one tick in on a family member in all our years of outdoor activities: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees. Ticks are gross and a little freaky, but you’re far more likely to find them on a nature trail or in your back yard. The internet seems to say that ticks do not jump down from trees, but every doctor I’ve spoken to says they do. They can also jump up from tall grass–  but a campsite offers tick protection: frequent camp fires, shorter grass, usually away from trees. Just be informed, and you’ll be O.K. See below for more suggestions.

  • If you’re worried about bugs, don’t go camping during the hot, humid season. Why add complications? May/ June, or September/ October are better times to go camping in my opinion. Days are a more comfortable temperature, and cool nights can be good for sleeping. Most campgrounds open in April and stay open through October. Here is a good website to help plan for trips: http://www.allcampgrounds.com/articles.
  • Inspect your tent for small holes or places that don’t zip. Be sure to repair these areas.
  • Don’t put your tent near standing water, trees or light poles, as these things attract bugs.
  • Keep lanterns and flashlights away from the entrance to the tent, so as not to attract bugs. If possible get into and out of your tent before turning on the flashlight, or have a tiny pen-light for this purpose if you need it. We always hang a lantern inside the center of the tent if we plan on staying awake, but make sure everyone is in first.
  • Don’t eat or drink inside the tent or near it, so as not to attract bugs. You can store sealed food inside your tent.
  • A campfire or citronella candles don’t completely keep bugs away, but they do help.
  • You are no more likely to get ticks at a campground than anywhere else. The grass at a campsite is short so its more likely to get them on a nature trail or just playing outdoors. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing to check around in your tent and on yourselves before going to bed, especially if you’ve been hiking that day.
  • We’ve had success removing a tick with a tick key. Here is a link to Amazon’s tick removal section: tick remover We’ve only had one tick in our family in our lives: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees.
  • Carry activated charcoal with you for tick or bug bites. You will want to put it on dry and not diluted. It is helpful to remove toxins through the skin. It relieves itching from mosquito bites by pulling the toxins out. It is a good first aid for tick bites, once the tick has been carefully removed (you will want to read up on tick removal). Drawing any toxins out immediately removes a lot of fear and concern. Of course, first aid is first aid. You will probably want to follow up with doctor after a tick bite, especially if you see a rash. Be informed.
  • Bug repellents have various levels of effectiveness. We prefer natural ones, but have not found any type that works perfectly. Feel free to comment if you know of a good one!
  • If you still want to take some extra steps, here are some good baby bug products: Natural Repellent bracelet for babies All natural mosquito repellent bracelets (10 pack) for kids, Z Show pop up mosquito net tent for baby

As you can imagine, we were not quite this obsessive; ) and everything turned out fine : )

Featured

Children’s Literature, Chapter 5: The Little French Shoes

_MG_1050 (1)Image0092move-83

The last chapter ended with a description of the scrapbook with mother and daughter looking at it together. That will take more work as it is a visual post with captions. It will require a painting, and fewer words. Here I am jumping to the next “chapter” where Sophia remembers the little French shoes she owned when the family lived out West. She begins composing a story about a little French girl she met, or imagines meeting….

Mamma, Sophia and her little brother glided over the cobbles stones on the Woodstock Square. “Can we get some fresh blueberries from the Farmer’s Market?” Sophia asked. “After your karate lesson,” Mamma said.

A woman walked speedily past them towards an office building. Her high heels made a “clip clop” noise as she passed. “Are those the kind of shoes you want, Sophia?” Mamma teased, “fancy shoes that go clip clop like a horse? Ride a fine horse to Banburry Cross, Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes..” Mamma sang the nursery rhyme and both children laughed.

“When I was in England,” said Mamma, ” I bought a pair of black shoes that were low cut with sturdy wide heels. They lasted a long time. The woman I bought them from said she had a pair. ‘I can even walk over cobblestones in them and not feel a thing!” Mamma did her best British accent to imitate the woman at the shoe store in England.

“Didn’t I have little boots that were sturdy and were different colors? Miss Kristine said they were made in France– she knew because she was a nanny there, remember? And we got them at a little town like this, where Daddy was showing his paintings.”

“My goodness,” exclaimed Mamma. “You remember that, and you were only 2 1/2? Those boots you wore when we went to Portland and you were feeding the ducks? Yes, we got them in Pullman, Washington, where Daddy used to work. There were some cute shops there, and we got you the boots at a children’s consignment store. Daddy displayed some paintings there at another store when Pullman had their art walk. And what did you do during the art walk, but try on more shoes while I was hanging paintings.”
“Yes,” said Sophia, “you have a picture of me trying on shoes in the scrapbook. And I’m pretty sure I met the little French girl at the art walk.”

“Really,” said Mamma, “I don’t remember that part.”

“It was fun looking at scrapbooks with you yesterday, Mamma! It helped me remember a lot!”

Fall Camping: Places to Go

washington&moscow-344 washington&moscow-330

Take a deep breath and get ready to welcome fall! Less bugs, cooler evenings, changing colors– the perfect time for a camping trip! If your little ones are not in school yet, what a great time for a family trip. If they have started school, then take advantage of a long weekend, like Columbus Day, for family bonding.

Where to Go:

If you’ve had a busy summer, it might be nice to pick somewhere within three hours of home. Depending on whether you have children in school, this might make a difference too. It’s nice to slow down a little during the fall season, and pick peaceful places in which to enjoy the changing seasons. You may want to have some warmer clothes, rain gear, and hardier food choices, but I’ll go over what to bring in my next post.

Places to See:

Here is a list of the best places we’ve been camping in autumn:

  • Traverse City, Michigan: Beautiful colors, lakes, fishing, boats, vineyards, rolling hills, rustic scenery. Jim and I got up at dawn to photograph the sunrise over the lake filled with fishing boats.
  • Door County, Wisconsin: scenic lighthouses, and lots of activities to do here!
  • Galena, Illinois: a river town with historic sites such as Ulysses S. Grant’s home, and ghost tours of the city in late October
  • Cheekwood near Nashville, Tennessee: Leaves turn color later in October to November, so take advantage of the warmer weather! Cheekwood has a scarecrow contest, outdoor sculptures, historic buildings and beautiful gardens. Although you can’t camp at Cheekwood itself, there are many state parks and outdoor activities nearby.
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: cascading waterfalls, October still has the feel of summer, except that the salmon are running! (fascinating to watch these fish wrestle their way North into the hatcheries!) Scenic harbors, lots of hiking.
  • Leavenworth, Washington: Bavarian style renovated village in the mountains. We stayed in Wenatchee State Park and hiked in that area, then ejoyed the boutiques and restaurants, on authentic Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Amana Colonies, Iowa: historic German village built by settlers. Has art galleries, boating, cave tours, shops and authentic German food; really comes to life for Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: beautiful all year and still warm in October, we camped nearby, hiked up above Multnomah Falls (shown in picture) and got to see the salmon running (when they return North to spawn in the fall.) Scenic waterways, hiking, good restaurants, and only two hours inland from the Oregon Coast.

Another thing we like to do in fall is to find Pioneer festivals and reenactments, to show the kids how people used to live. Some festivals can be quite elaborate and make a great learning experience. These tend to be hosted in or near state parks, and usually have camping and fishing opportunities nearby.

Catching Up, On the Road; Denver

Wow! Summer is flying by! I apologize for my “blog lag,” as I have just returned from a trip to Denver for my brother’s wedding reception! I am still catching up, and this short post is just meant to share what we’ve been doing as I catch up from our trip. Though I did some writing, it was nearly impossible to post anything on this trip due to the late hours we kept and the technical issues I continually had with my laptop. I was forced to slow down, but it was worth it for spending quality time with relatives… I will be sharing some pictures soon since they are so much more exciting.

We had a great time and got to do some sightseeing: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo– built into a mountainside, is a beautiful hilly walk, with great experiences for the kids with animals in very natural habitats. The views over the city of Colorado Springs alone are worth the hike. I’ve never seen so many giraffes in one place, and we were there at the right time to see three new baby lion cubs! Coming from the Chicago area, we’ve had many zoo experiences, but I’d have to say this is the best one. I recommend bringing water, as this is all outdoors and they charge a steep price for water bottles.

The Denver Aquarium too, is amazing. I really marvel at the design of the exhibits, and the interactive kid friendly atmosphere. Not being a very urban type of person, I felt more comfortable in the more laid back Denver than in Chicago. The way the sea creatures are displayed is a work of art in itself. Everywhere, there is something to look, even above your head! Everything had a natural feel, and drew us in.

The Denver Art Museum was very exciting. Every floor had projects that gave kids a chance to create. At the entrance, kids could get one backpack per family and the backpacks contained projects and scavenger hunt activities corresponding a a floor of the museum. Each floor had a little reading room/ play area decorated with different types of art corresponding to the theme of that floor. It gave us a chance to relax and read the art books, and let the children play. I really admired the variety of exhibits in the museum, the interior design meant to feel homey, and the activities to keep children busy and let them learn.

Restaurants: We had dinner at the Irish Snug on Colfax Street and heard Irish singer Brian Clancy, who is there almost every Saturday. Luckily we had a baby sitter that night, as a we celebrated with my bro and his wife, to the tune of good old Irish drinking, fighting and love songs amidst the chorus of audience participants. Brian Clancy is a great singer, and a lively local legend.

Another fun, eclectic place we tried was Buenos Aires Pizzeria on 1319 22nd St, Denver 80205. Surprisingly great pizza and Italian food, sandwiches and Argentinian food with many choices. The bread and pesto sauce were amazing! And real, freshly made gelato ice cream for desert!