Posts tagged reading
Parent Helper: Audio books for kids

Friends, I have been waiting to share this new nugget of goodness that has transformed our witching hour around here. You know what I mean by witching hour, yes? I think it hits everyone's house at slightly different times, but ours hits almost exactly from 4-5 PM every day. At this point, the kids have had their snacks, finished homework, and are not quite motivated enough to find something to entertain themselves (or one another). And so usually, they'd turn to me to play or to suggest a way for them to enjoy the next hour, and by that point, I'm frantically trying to wrap up work, get dinner on the table, and handle any other household chores that have been waiting on me. The combination of parent and child patience levels at their lowest is a recipe for disaster.

In our last visit to the library, we spent some time in the audio book section, or the "read-alongs" as my kids call them. My youngest, L, at four, checks out quite a few of these because it's an easy way for me to have him attentive to books even when I can't be the one reading along with him. He loves the musical backgrounds and bonus songs that some of the books feature. His big sisters were reminiscing about their own experience of these picture books with audio and lamenting that they don't have the fun of these any more.

Seeing that I had a teachable moment right in my hands, I walked with them to the audio books for kids section. Right away, they recognized titles that they had read and some that were on their wish lists. C, our newly confident reader, was happily surprised to find Mr. Popper's Penguins, one of her older sister's books that she'd been eyeing for a while. She hasn't quite had the gumption to pick it up on her own, but knowing that she could be read to and follow along broke down her fear.

Through their elementary school, M and C are required to read or be read to a certain number of minutes per week. I have seen C's confidence grow as she listens along to the British narrator of the story tackle the complicated words and phrases with her. She's able to sink into the story a bit more and use her imagination to make the scenes come to life. This is not a substitute for her independent reading time but a nice addition to her learning.

L memorizes his books through the great use of pattern, repetition, and song that professionals can provide.

M loves the opportunity to put in headphones and be given permission to tune out to dive into a book. Since I have no audio learners (save my husband) in the house, this exercise has been a helpful way for them to expand their learning styles, too.

Last week at 4:15, a moment I typically dread, I looked around to see all three of my children engaged in audio books - content, learning, and completely occupied. It was like a mini-retreat for me and dinner prep and dishes became an enjoyable experience. And we all came to dinner calmer.

Have you tried audio books with your children? Do you utilize them for your own reading? Check out Paige's recommendations for some great audio books.

xoxo, MJ

P.S. Thanks to Ileana for this helpful suggestion: "I used audiobooks all throughout my daughters childhoods. The youngest would drift off to sleep with a "story tape" after we finished with bedtime reading. She is now addicted and still listens to audiobooks as a young woman. I credit the good vocabulary of my children with this habit. I wanted to pass on these two resources of great audiobooks, one the D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths read by Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Kathleen Turner and others. The other is a collection of tales and fables for children by Jim Weiss (he has a very soothing voice)." 


Happy Kiddos: Reading time

It's Wednesday, friends. And that means it's time for a little conversation about children. Did you know that I plan it this way? Here's a glimpse into the editorial calendar: Monday, we create. Tuesday, we simplify. Wednesday, we talk about kids. Thursday, we talk happiness. Friday, we try new things. And that is about as much as I can take on in any given week!! :)

I'm all about this here blog helping my real life and yours be a little bit or maybe even a whole lot better. However, this new once-a-month series is really all about me.

Well, sort of. And by this I mean, it's all about my relationship with my eldest, M age 7, and her sense of learning and literature. And it's about having healthy, life-giving parent-child relationships and finding meaningful ways to connect with the most important people in our lives.

And so maybe it's about you, too.

Remember how I started up a bookclub for M over the summer? Check out this post to find out how you can create a bookclub for your child, too (it's really not so tough to do). We had a ton of fun with her friends: reading, crafting, and eating together.

Now we're in the thick of the school schedule that for us means lots of academics, choir, ballet, Brownies, and a whole bunch of other busy.

But she's still my little girl, and I want to have special time with her (and her siblings, too). I'm also a teacher by training, and I know how critical it is to read at home. If you're looking for some great tips to encourage a passion for reading in your kids, head over to Sandra's's a great resource.

M and I were looking through summer photos and rehashing the fun we had together, and we decided we should do more bookclubs. But fully knowledgeable of our already-rainbow colored Google calendar, I suggested that we make it a bookclub just for the two of us.

Here are our basic guidelines:

1. We read one book a month.

We get two copies of the same book when we go to the library together, and we have to both be excited to read the book (AKA Mommy cannot force me to read a boring chapter book with a bad cover). We go to the library most Fridays (to get movies) and Saturdays (for special Daddy time) so we have easy access to the best choices.

This means that I get to dive back into some children's literature that captivated me.

AND that I need to be equally enthusiastic about reads that M loves... like our first choice, Meet Kit, an American Girl historical fiction. It's set in the 30s and 40s which opens up all sorts of great conversations about the world as it was! M spent her 5th birthday at the American Girl megastore in Chicago having a festive afternoon tea (see above), and she's been interested in the historical books for a while.

2. We wait to talk about the book until our "meeting".

M is very much excited about a special designated time where we can sit together somewhere other than our house and talk. I am super aware that this desire is likely a fleeting one so I'm soaking it up while I can. I imagine most of our gatherings will be at a local bookstore or coffee shop so that we have some girl time away, too!

3. We watch or craft together based on our stories.

Most of the books we've chosen have been turned into movies. I always love to dish about who would play which characters in the movie versions of our books for my grown-up bookclub, and I know that M will have great ideas on how the books do or do not mesh with the films.

If time so allows, we'll skip the movie idea and instead create something together based on our reading. M already has some ideas brewing for Meet Kit and its historical context, but I also want to be realistic about how much time we'll have to delve into a project.

That's it.

I anticipate my biggest challenge to be her brother and sister who at 2 and 5 will also want a bookclub just for I'll just have to turn that challenge into something else good!

Have you ever read alongside your children? Any helpful ideas to share?

Happy reading! XO, MJ


Mommy and Daddy School: Bookclub Reads


Thanks to all of you who have been so supportive and interested in last week's post on my daughter's bookclub. This evening we celebrated our second (and maybe final for the summer) meeting, and it was again such a joy to be with these young minds and senses of humor.

Our read for this month was Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. She's a magical woman who offers children cures to their greatest (parent-identified) ailments, such as picky eating, sibling fighting, and selfish behaviors. We rated our book (it scored a little lower than the Chocolate Touch), made simple folded books to house our own cures, and sculpted some of the objects used in the story.

For those moms and dads interested in starting up a club for your 6-9 year olds, here are 9 reads we considered...easy to moderate level chapter books that have a great theme for discussion/crafting! :)

The Chocolate Touch

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle

Stuart Little

The Lemonade Wars

The Magical Miss Plum

Ramona Quimby, age 8

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Mouse and the Motorcycle

Charlotte's Web

Do you have any great chapter books to add to the list? I'd love to see your top reads!





Mommy and Daddy School: Children's Bookclub

I've been a proud member of a wonderful bookclub for the last five years or so (did you see the Hunger Games night that I hosted...memorable and delightful), and my daughter, M at age 7 has always been intrigued by the idea of reading and eating together with friends. To keep her excited about reading, I suggested that we could gather a group of her friends and explore some chapter books together over the summer. I had to throw in a craft and some delightful treats to seal the deal, but I didn't really need my arm twisted.

Soooo, I had this crazy idea that borrowing a chocolate fountain, melting 4 pounds of milk chocolate yumminess in it, and inviting over a handful of 7-year olds would be fun. 

I was right. And I was exhausted post event.

Starting a bookclub with your child allows you the opportunity to connect and to educate, and it sets a great tone for future learning. Your child sees that you embrace reading, that reading can be and is fun, and that reading shared with friends enhances relationships and knowledge of ourselves.

Here are my tips on how to host a bookclub for a special young person in your life:

1. Invite 3-4 friends.

Keep it small to start off. Where possible know the parents, too. This size of club makes it easy to have more in-depth discussion and allows the kids to be able to listen to one another's ideas without being overwhelmed by the numbers.

2. Get the parents involved.

Though I'm a teacher by training, I still wanted lots of input from the other parents of kiddos involved in the bookclub. I sent out an email with 5 suggested chapter books (with Amazon links) and asked each mom to pick two that seemed like good reads for their girls. We decided on two dates in initial email exchanges as well so that everyone could get these on the family calendars.

3. Read the book, too.

We selected The Chocolate Touch as our first book. It's a good book that mirrors the story of King Midas. The protagonist John Midas gets the chocolate touch and turns everything into chocolate...even his mom! My daughter finished the book in one afternoon because she was so excited about it, and I wanted to be able to talk about the details with her and her friends so I devoured it, too. While you're reading, jot down a few notes and a handful of discussion questions. If you feel stumped on what to ask, simply Google a synopsis of your chosen read. Someone has already created the questions. Trust me.

4. Make it easy to enter the conversation.

M made packs of numbers 1-4 for her friends. Our first question: How would you rate the book? (We do this without the props in my bookclub as a way to begin the book talk) The girls shuffled through the numbers, looking for 4s if they loved it and 1s if they never wanted to read it again. I asked them to turn their chosen number face down and on the count of three - we all revealed our ratings! First question, why did you give the book this rating? I loved that we had variance in opinions and great reasons to back up their thoughts!

We breezed through the events of each chapter, with each girl clammoring to tell what they loved best about the characters and details. At the end of the discussion, I asked each girl to re-rate. One bumped her rating of a three to a four after the conversation!

5. Fun is a must.

We want children to connect joy and reading together so let's make it fun. Think about how food can be themed for the event. The Chocolate Touch lent itself to great chocolate treats such as strawberries and angel food cake dipped in a chocolate fountain. 

Throw in a craft, too! I wanted M to have full ownership of the meeting so we imagined together what kind of project would fit well with the plot of the book. We decided on a chocolate box but put a twist on it by folding a pyramid-shape! Super cool and easy. Check out this site for lots of box templates easy enough for kids (and busy moms) to follow.

After two hours of pizza, talk, and chocolate, with full stomachs and high-pitched giggles, we said good-bye to great friends and avid readers.

Next month we read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, and M is so excited to plan our menu and gather the craft supplies. I'm already behind her in my reading...just as I had hoped.

Hosting a bookclub for your child requires a little bit of energy, but it opens up some great paths into literature and relationships for your little one.

Any great children's reads that you'd recommend? Would you have wanted to be a part of a bookclub as a child?


The Summer of Happiness: For Parents

And, we're back! Hope your fourth was a great one. I had a lot of fun welcoming some great ladies over for a virtual pool party. For reals, we had a fabulous time with friends, lounging and watching children play.

When I see my children comfortably interacting with new and old friends, I find it easy to be happy in my role as parent...but this is not always the case, right? Parenting is our topic for this week's bookclub. Just to recap, we're doing a tag-along bookclub with Denise over at Hello Moxie. She posted on this chapter last week (while we have our fabulous guests staying over).

Here's what Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project set forth for herself as she came to April and exploring the relationship of parent and child: 
  • Sing in the morning. 
  • Acknowledge the reality of people's feelings.
  • Be a treasure house of happy memories. 
  • Take time for projects. 
I always cheat and read ahead to see what the goals for the next chapter will be and then in my head I assess whether I'd have any, some, or all of the same goals. This list of four struck me as an usual quad for parenting, and I was intrigued to read more. Her pairing of the title "Lighten Up" with Parenthood hit home for sure.

I'm proud to be the mom of two daughters - 7 yo M and 5 yo C - and one son, little L, age 2.
And when I read about what Gretchen described as fog happiness, I totally got it. Check this:

The experience of having children gives me tremendous fog happiness. It surrounds me, I see it everywhere, despite the fact that when I zoom in on any particular moment, it can be hard to identify.
Sometimes I grow frustrated with myself or my children because I don't feel, moment to moment, happy with where we are (I often feel tired, excited, ready). When I can have a bit of separation and can see more clearly, I realize how profoundly happy I am to be their mother and to walk with them through the many stages of development, and it all makes sense under the fog of happiness.

"To become more tender and playful..." is the target for Gretchen. I too have put this as a goal for my mom self on a number of different occasions.  I actually find it very helpful to observe other moms doing this well, and I think of a mom friend that I see in Church. She has 7 little people under her tutelage, and she handles them each with what I call, "soft hands." No matter how her children react/behave (good or bad), she always has a soft hand to encourage, console, correct. She's always reaching out to them, physically and sending them signals of her love through gentility and tenderness.

I adored her strategies for really listening to children's feelings. She's right, and I need to take into account how they feel more often (rather than pushing through with my agenda).

  1. Write it down - eg: "I'm going to write that down. Eleanor does not like to wear snowboots."
  2. Don't feel as if you have to say anything - Yes! More true with some of our children than others, but when C is frustrated, it's so good to just hug her for 2 minutes than always talk through a situation.
  3. Don't say no - eg: instead of saying, "No, not until after lunch" try "Yes, as soon as we're finished with lunch."
  4. Wave my magic wand - eg: "If I had a magic wand, I'd make it warm outside so we wouldn't have to wear coats."
  5. Admit that a task is difficult - eg: "Socks can be tough to get off."

I think the recommendation of being a treasure house of happy memories is a really smart one.
Because people remember events better when they fit with their present mood, happy people remember happy events better, and depressed people remember sad events better. Depressed people have as many nice experiences as other people - they just don't recall them as well.
I'm all about making up traditions, celebrating and reliving great moments, and this cause me to pause to think about how I share this all with my children.

So here's what I'm taking on for this week:

Acknowledge the reality of my children's feelings.

I feel powerful to have five strategies in which to do this so I'm excited for the happiness that's coming my way. 

Here's a final thought (aka pinnable) to leave you with...the four stages of happiness!
Happy reading, friends!! Do tell, how do you keep happiness alive in your relationships with your children?



The Happiness Project for Summer

When Denise over at Hello Moxie mentioned in 140 characters or less (go Twitter), that she was planning a summer bookclub on her blog, I knew I wanted to join in the fun.

Are you a fan of the combo of summer & reading? I remember the utter joy I felt when breaking open the stack of chapter books I was required to read in the months before my sixth grade summer. I have such happy memories of those days, lounged across my bed or sitting on the lawn, soaking up mounds of memorable stories.

Jess over at Curated Style put our her own summer reading challenge of 30 books this summer, and I was inspired (and intimidated).

So this piece of Heaven is starting slow but not small with a tag along bookclub of The Happiness Project. Author Gretchen Rubin started out on this adventure to find what makes her happy and multiply it. Throughout the year-long experience, Gretchen offers great research and quotes from great leaders and researchers on the study of happiness. As a collector of words, I find these snippets to be my favorite part.

Those and the Note to Readers in the beginning which lays out the Secrets of Adulthood (lessons learned sometimes too late and ones that Gretchen kept in mind while going through her own happiness project).

It's an awesome list, short and to the point. One in particular caught my eye and I had to read it aloud to my hubby,we're right in the midst of this very thing with summer events about to begin:

"You can't profoundly change your children's natures by nagging or signing them up for classes."
Okay, we'll cancel the yoga sessions.

Chapter 1 takes us through her first month of resolution setting and accomplishments. I found Gretchen's goals approachable and ones I might write for myself:

  • Go to sleep earlier
  • Exercise better
  • Toss, restore, organize
  • Tackle a nagging task
  • Act more energetic
As an educator, I kind of wanted her to set measurable goals (less "better" and "earlier", more 1 hour earlier or 45 minutes jogging). This is likely part of what I need to work on in my own Happiness Project, but I'll try to keep with her #11 commandment here and suggest that there should be no calculation.

Certainly I could use a good dose of all five of these resolutions, but the one that intrigued me the most was number 5. 

Act more energetic


That's the one I'm taking away for this week, and I have a feeling it's going to bring a little more happiness my way. How about you? Is there a resolution that strikes a chord with your life right now?

We'll be exploring more of The Happiness Project here and feel invited to tweet with the #HappinessProject to add to the discussion on Twitter.

And a quotable to pin:

Happy Thursday, friends! See you back here tomorrow...bring your happiness. Or leave it behind, you'll find some here.


Four simple, pleasing read-aloud storybooks


I'm excited to honor Children's Book Week, the national celebration of books and reading for youth. This worthwhile spotlight started nearly a century ago and remains the longest-running literacy initiative in this country.

For my part, I really want to share with you four of our favorite family read-alouds. Reading to my children is such a daily gift. Taking on the voices and speech patterns of animals and inventions, I have the great pleasure of opening up the world to them.

We have a favorite bookstore, discovered a number of years ago while on vacation. As a souvenir from the trip, each child selected a book. We all have such fond memories of that time together, away from the TV and laptops.  I have such warm memories of all five of us huddled up in the big bed, listening and treasuring story and art, as we read and reread these wondrous books.


1. A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker

Bear keeps to himself, always has, always will - until he hears a tap, tap, tapping on his door. Enter Mouse. The story unfolds to reveal the ways that Mouse ingratiates himself to the stubborn Bear, with persistence and attention. With its enjoyable repetition of refrain, your children (and you) will find yourself joining in the first sparks of friendships, and the sweet illustrations will stay with you long after the book close.

Bear has a series of other stories, and we happily read those, too, but I think this is by far, the best of the bunch.


2. Manana Iguana by Ann Whitford Paul

My super smart sis, who is also a rocking Kindergarten teacher, recommended this one to me. Manana Iguana is a modern take on the Little Red Hen. Poor Iguana is raring to throw a grand fiesta, and she looks to her three companions to help with preparations. My fave animal in this one is Culebra (the snake) with his quick wit, "I'll help you, Iguana. I'll help you Manana, Iguana, when I grow arms."

The integration of Spanish and English dialogue is seamless and natural to the story. The drawings endear. And I do one amazing, annoyed iguana imitation if I do say so.


3. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

What list of children's stories would be complete without a Seuss? This one is my favorite. The ridiculousness matched with the sing song patterning makes it such a great read-aloud.

I've been influenced by Seuss artwork for a very long time, and I see my kids trying to identify what real creature might have inspired the crazy critters that Dr. Seuss brings to life in these pages. Mr. Gump's little ditty is my fave, as I have a melody that goes along with it, too (a book turned into a musical, I'm all about that!).

4. Little Miss Spider by David Kirk

The interior of this book feels and looks like a shiny, polished new car. The dramatic colors are like a rainbow on your lap and each vignette draws you in. C has always loved this story, so much so that she memorized the entirety of it at age 3 and "read" it to her teachers.

Miss Spider hatches into the world, alongside many siblings, but without the presence of her mother. We follow her through the story as she searches and inquires, "Where could my mother be?", only to find that she has discovered the most amazing mother right by her side.

It's a sweet, simple story, again using rhyme, that reminds us of the most important connection between mother and child.

If you're looking for a sentimental something for a momma (perfect for Mother's Day) in your life, try wrapping up this charmed storybook. The book concludes with the verse below - one so fitting for Mother's Day. Cut and paste it into your next email or text to a favorite momma in your life.