Pragmatic Mom

October 12, 2009

Playdough Recipe

Filed under: Age: Preschool,Recipes — Pragmatic Mom @ 11:50 pm

This is an old recipe from my first preschool.  My middle daughter used to LOVE to play with playdough but she didn’t like the stinky smell of purchased playdough.  Mix a batch and store in an air-tight container for hours of fun.

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

4 teaspoons cream of tartar

2 teaspoons cooking oil

2 cups of water

food coloring

Combine everything except the food coloring  in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently.  It should be done in about 3 minutes; the dough will start to come together and pulls away from the pan.  Add food coloring a few drops at a time until you are happy with the intensity of the color.  Dump out and knead about 10 times.  Give the warm playdough to your child.  Warm playdough is the best!

October 8, 2009

Great Kids’ Book Club Meetings

I  run two book clubs for my kids and participates in a book club for my last kid.  My kids think that book club is their very favorite activity in the entire world.  I notice that there seem to be two schools of thought when creating a book club.  One version is a parent/child book club that tends to be a little more structured and literary.  My book clubs are more along the lines of an organized play group centered around creating interest in reading.

If you are thinking of creating a book club for your child, some advice:

  • Defining the group will help alleviate hurt feelings later on.  For example, my two book clubs are centered around a group of kids who are all friends from a particular class .  My preschooler’s book club is defined by all the kids who will attend the same elementary school one day.
  • 4-7 seems to be a good size for a book club.  Start smaller if the kids are younger.  You can go bigger if you require an adult in attendance for all book clubs.
  • Choose a group of compatible kids AND moms (or adults) even if it’s a kids-only book club.
  • Length of book club is as short as one hour to as long as a sleepover, but 2 hours is a good general timeframe as book clubs are kind of like a small birthday party.
  • For my book clubs, the hosting family chooses the book and supplies it for all the members. For other book clubs, the host mom might buy copies of the book for everyone, but each parent pays her back.  If a book club kid already owns the book, it’s one less the host needs to buy.  Sometimes the kid chooses the book, sometimes there are suggestions from the organizer to choose from, and sometimes the parent picks the book — it’s all good!

How Pragmatic Mom’s Book Clubs Work

My  preschool book club was just one hour.  The book club met once a month and rotated from house to house.  The hosting family choose a picture book and read it aloud to the group.  After the book reading,  there was an activity and snack.  For this book club, we did NOT buy and distribute books because picture books are quite expensive and the group was pretty large at 7 kids.  The kids were ages 4 and 5 and did very well sitting still for the book reading, and enjoyed the snack and a very simple activity.  usually the child was accompanied by his or her mom.  Because our preschool day ended at noon, we held the book clubs usually at 1 or 1:30 for an hour so that it ended in time for an older sibling pick-up.

My middle child’s book club began the summer after Kindergarten.  The idea was to keep a group of friends connected as they went into a new grade with potentially different teachers.  It was modeled after her older’s sister’s book club which focused on group dynamics over literary discussions.  The group started off with 4 girls and has settled into 5 girls two years later.  I  feel like 1st and 2nd grade is when her girls were learning how to play in groups.  The book clubs are slated for 2 hours, but usually go longer and seem to extend into an informal happy hour for the moms.  We found that two moms on deck seems to work nicely so there is typically a hosting mom and a helping mom who stays (which is necessary when the hot glue gun comes out).  This group is also starting to take the kids on field trips to tie books into fun outings.

Her oldest child’s book club began after 1st grade and is going strong through 4th grade.  The group has fluctuated between 5 to 6 girls as someone is usually out of the country but eventually returns.  Her group is based on the older girls from a combined K/1 class.   As these kids mastered group play by the middle of 1st grade, I noticed that projects that used to be individual could be tweaked into team projects to teach group dynamics of leadership and compromise.  It’s been really rewarding to watch them learn how to work together and it hasn’t always been easy for them.  In this group, moms drop off their kids for 2-3 hour blocks.  Sometimes the book clubs are also sleepovers.

Successful Book Club Meetings

To Purchase a Book, Simply Click on the Image of the book to buy at

93 in My Family by Erica S. Perl.  Activity was to draw your family using template printed from her website,  Perfect for Preschool through 2nd grade book club.  A fun rhyming book!  In a separate book club meeting, the book club members met at bookstore nearby where Erica Perl hosted a book reading for her new book Chicken Butt. The kids were captivated by her presentation which included songs, a chicken hat and chicken shaped cookies.  The parents were captivated by hearing how her book evolved from one idea into the final evolution of the book.  We ended the book club at a nearby park for snack and free play.   If she’s coming  to your town, don’t miss her!  Her book tours are also on her website.

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens.  The activity was to plant a container garden that each child took home.  Plants included tomato, cucumber, sweet basil, marigold and parsley.  Perfect for preschool through 2nd grade book club to do in late spring or early summer.






The Story of Ping by Marjorie Flack.  I used the picture of Ping on the front cover to cut out larger ducks out of white tagboard.  The kids decorated their ducks using markers, feathers and glue sticks.

Mr. Tanen’s Ties by Maryann Cocca Leffler.  Using white tagboard, the kids decorated large ties with paint, stampers and dot-dot paints.

Clocks and More Clocks by Pat Hutchins.  The activity was to create your own clock.  You will need a clock kit per child and a handy mom to host.  Perfect for 1st through 3rd graders.

The Greatest Power by Demi.  This book coincided with Chinese New Year so we went this that theme.  The book is the sequel to The Empty Pot.  The book goes over the achievements of the Chinese by answering a question posed by the child emperor of what is the greatest power?  We folded origami cups (very simple), fortune tellers (not that hard) and cranes (hard).  The kids took turns trying to pick out candy from a bowl using chop sticks to fill their origami cup.  Technically, origami is more of a Japanese art form but candy is appropriate for Chinese New Years because you are supposed to eat something sweet to get good luck in the year ahead.  Perfect for grades Kindergarten through 2nd grade.







My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco.  The children each brought a handful of family photographs that they could use to make a photo album scrapbook.  I supplied blank scrapbook pages purchased at a craft store along with glue, scissors, and markers.  We bound each books using a velobinder but stapling the books together is fine too!  The kids wrote captions under each picture.  This was a 1st grade book club.

Wedding Flowers by Cynthia Rylant.  We made tissue paper flower bouquets (use tissue paper and cut into petal shapes and scrunch up at the bottom).  We had teams and each team dressed a girl in a wedding dress made of white crepe paper (more durable than toilet paper).  We decorated cupcakes.  You could also recreate the wedding feast in the book.  1st through 2nd grade book club.





My Haunted House by Angie Sage. A perfect pick for an October book club, especially one near Halloween.  The host mom baked brownies and cut them out in the shape of bats.  Activities were outdoors and included bobbing for apples, chubby bunny (put crackers in your mouth one at a time.  After each cracker, you say chubby bunny.  When you can’t say chubby bunny anymore, you’re out), and relay races.  1st through 3rd grade book club.






The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson.  The activity was to make a coin purse using fabric and glue guns.  The mom then set up a “grocery store” with her week’s shopping and displayed the prices the each item.  The kids had $10 to buy food.  The idea was that 2nd graders may not realize that $10 doesn’t buy a lot of food.  Another spin would be to have each child bring $10 from home and then go to the grocery store to buy $10 worth of food to donate to a food bank.  This book club was during the holiday season because the mom wanted to have the kids think about others.

Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties by Toon Tellegen.  This was a really great book club meeting.  The mom hid invitation cards filled out with instructions throughout the house.  As the kids found the cards, they did the activity.  Here are some of the cards which make up different steps of planning a party.  1) Go to the living room.  Learn the dance:  Blame It On The Boogie.  2) Make Fruit Punch.  Directions:  2 cups fruit punch, 2 cups gingerale, marachino cherries, ice.  Mix in pitcher. Remember to work together!  3) Make a centerpiece for the table.  Work together!  Be careful with the glue gun!  Also make placecards with your name on it.  You may decorate as you wish.  (She supplied a styerfoan cone plus cuttings from the garden and other decorations).  4) Decorate the cookies.  2 cookies each.  Share frosting.  Don’t eat cookies yet!  (sugar cookies).  5) Enjoy the treats.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles.   Using large sheets of tagboard, draw your own dragon.  Tangerines for snack.

Sideways Stories of the Wayside School by Louis Sachar.  The kids all liked this book but I thought this was a quirky book with stories of very strange children.  I hosted this one.  I suggested that the kids pantomime a character like charades and have the kids guess who it was.  This was vetoed.  Instead, it because a group project in which they created a scene of the class using tagboard, markers, tape and glue.  They were absolutely quiet for 2 hours working on this project and said it was a blast.  It wasn’t even that messy!  Perfect for grades 2nd through 4th.  This author was so popular that the following book club was Angeline by Louis Sachar.






The Doll People series by Laura Godwin. This series was so popular that we did three book clubs in a row, one book after the other.  For the first club, the hosting mom created a scavenger hunt of clues to find the aunt.  This was a big hit!  For the second book, the hosting mom had the girls create a doll house using tag board cut out in the shape of a doll house.  The girls drew the characters hidden throughout the doll house.  I have to research what the activity was for the 3rd book; her daughter thinks they just played.  Perfect for 2nd through 4th grade book clubs.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.  The activity was to create nature survival guide by finding edible and poisonous plants in your neighborhood.  I printed out wildlife information from  Another site is I also bought a flint & steel combination fire starter from EMS and had the girls try to start a fire like the boy in the story.  This was supervised by an adult and done on pavement.  It was pretty hard to do!  We collected plant samples as well.  3rd through 5th grade book club.

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee.  This was a very simple but wildly popular book club meeting.  The hosting mom created a Jeopardy Game by writing trivia questions based on  the book.  She also asked each child to bring in two questions.   2nd through 3rd grade book club.






Tale of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler and Sarah Gibb.  This was my turn.  I copied a 5th grade assignment and had the kids create a game together based on the book using foam core board, markers, tape, scissors and cardboard.  It was a great way to practice group dynamics.  At first there was arguing over who was in charge.  After about half an hour, there was silence.  When I looked in, all the kids were happily engaged in their part of the project.  This was another big hit that was also very easy.  3rd or 4th grade book club.

Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris.  In the story, the princess creates her own perfume.  The activity for this club was making your own perfume using Perfumery Kit.  The kids loved playing “mad scientist.”  2nd through 4th grade book club.

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins.  In this book club, we were fortunate to have the author visit our book club.  She happens to live in our city.  She was absolutely captivating.  She also talked about the evolution of the book.  At first, she thought this book would be a picture book about a boy rickshaw driver.  She also talked about how easy it was for her to get her first book published, but her second book took more than 10 years.  As a child growing up in Bangladesh and India, she compared cultures and talked about how Bangladesh was changing.  The boys were particularly captivated about micro-loans which were changing Bangladesh’s village economy for the better.  She also talked about her next book, Monsoon Summer which is perfect for middle school age children.  If Mitali Perkins comes to your city, she is a must-see!

We combined with the boys’ book club for same grade for the first time.  The boys stayed for the author presentation, snack and photo with the author.  The girls stayed for an art project.   They created Alpana designs using large brown tag board and white poster paint.  You could also create Alpanas using flower petals and ground colored spices.  I printed out alpana examples from the internet so they could get an idea of what the designs looked like:  The artwork turned out really well.  2nd through 4th grade book club.

Harry Potter (any of them) by J. K. Rowling.  This was from the 4th grade boys’ book club.  They played Quittage by using Tiki Torches and 4 square balls on a beach, but a field would work just as well.  3rd through 5th grade book club.






Holes by Louis Sachar.  This was a book club that other moms always talk about as the best book club their child ever attended.  She buried items from book into holes dug in her yard for the kids to dig up.  The combination of a wildly popular book with a wildly popular activity is the reason why everyone always talks about how fun this meeting was!  3rd through 5th grade book club.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney.  My friend ran this book club for the 4th grade boys’  book club.  The boys had all read all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books so she bought the newest one hot off the presses, hired a teacher to teach cartooning and had the kids create their own comic strips.  It was a big hit! Perfect for 2nd through 4th grade.






Matilda by Roald Dahl.  The mom hostess had just returned from a Transatlantic flight and was completely jetlagged.  She had them watch the DVD of Matilda but I think that is actually a great book club.  It’s always music to my ears when my daughter tells me that the book was waaaay better than the movie!  It would be fun to compare what was different about the book versus the movie.

Activities that Can Be Done for Any Book

  • Have the group work together or individually and create a game based on the book.  Provide cardboard or foam core board, markers, scissors, tape and staplers.  I like to introduce group activities to teach kids how to work as a team around 3rd grade.
  • Provide sculpey (a kind of clay) and have the kids sculpt a character’s head.  Would be good for any age.
  • Create bookmarks based on the book.  Provide stiff paper or cardboard, markers & scissors.
  • Create a scene from the book using a shoebox, paper, glue, markers, tape, etc.  You can even tell the book club in advance to bring in things from home to create a diorama.  You can do this individually or as a group.  For a group project, you could also create a scene using a big piece of tag board or foam core board.
  • My middle child’s book club is not shy about breaking out the hot glue guns… but you will need at least two adults on deck for this.  Using cardboard craft boxes or other container purchased at a craft store, use the hot glue gun to attach something related to the book in a design.
  • Create a trivia game by having each member bring in three questions about the book.  Have everyone  take turns drawing  a question and have fun answering it.  Remind everyone to read the book IN ADVANCE!
  • Act out a scene of the play and then have an adult record the show on a DVD recorder to play back.
  • Write a plot for a sequel to the book.  For a twist, do this in pairs or as a group.
  • Have everyone name something that would be different in the book if the setting of the book took place 100 years into the future.
  • Choose one character in the book.  Each member of the team must decide on what gift to bring to a birthday party for this character.  Consider the character’s personality, likes and dislikes.  Act out the party with each team member presenting their gift. Or make the gift.
  • Write a poem about a character.  Each team member must think of at least one line.  The poem must have at least 6 lines and must rhyme.
  • Write a script and act out a new ending for the book.
  • Make a 30 second television commercial to try to get people to read the book.  Be sure to include information about the characters, setting, and the story that will get people interested in the book.
  • If you can get your hands on a game called The Book Club in a Box (try ebay), play the game.  Many of the ideas for book clubs are from this game!
  • I received a great tip from the blog, Mother& for this book by Cindy Hudson, Book by Book:  The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs.

October 6, 2009

Favorite Chapter Books for Newly Independent Readers

I  find that there is a void for newly independent readers.  You know, the readers that have graduated from Henry and Mudge and insist on chapter books, but not ready for Newbery Award books.  While there are a plethora of chapter books, the quality of many series books  is low with a repetitive and tiresome story line and limited vocabulary. 

These chapter book suggestions come from mom friends as well the Between the Lions Book for Parents:  Everything You Need to Know to Help Your Child Learn How to Read by Linda K. Rath, Louis Kennedy, and Christopher Cerf, an excellent reference book.  

If you wish to purchase any book on, simply click on the image of the book.


Ivy and Bean Series by Annie Barrows.  A mom friend just recommended this and my daughter loved it.  The first book is about how Ivy and Bean became friends. [ages 6-9] 


Beast Quest series by Adam Blade.  A great series for a newly independent reader about beasts who threaten a kingdom and a boy who can save them. Here are a few of them. [ages 6-9]


No Flying in the House by Betty Brock.  Finally, a great fairy book without a plot that is recycled throughout an entire series.  This is about a half-blood fairy who is raised by her guardian, a 3 inch talking dog.  Lots of interesting twists and turns and highly recommended by the 7-year-old set.  [ages 7-10]

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh.   A true story about Sarah Noble, a brave 8-year-old pioneer child, who must leave her mother and siblings to accompany her father to the wilds of Connecticut while he builds a house for their family.  Can Sarah keep her courage up when faced with Indians?  With large type and short chapters, this Newbery Honor book is perfect for younger readers.  [ages 6-10]


26 Fairmont Avenue by Tomie DePaola.  Beloved author of Strega Nona fame has an autobiographical series covering 1938 through WWII.  Find these books in the BIOGRAPHY section of the library NOT fiction!  [ages 7-11]

Pinky and Rex Series by James Howe and Melissa Sweet.  Rex, a girl, loves dinosaurs.  Pinky, a boy, is her best friend whose favorite color is pink. Perfect for kids who buck trends.   [ages 6-9] 

My Father’s Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannett. A little boy rescues a young dragon and has adventures with his new friend.  [ages 6-9] 

Go Girl  Series by Thalia Kalkipsakis and Ash Oswald.  A new series a mom friend just recommended this series beccause it is about situations your child can relate to. [ages 6-9]

Lulu’s Hat by Susan Meddaugh.  Susan Meddaugh, author of the popular Martha Speaks series and tv show, has a chapter book written in her same picture book style that combines humor, wit and quick-thinking heroines.  In this case, her heroine is an aspiring magician. [ages 6-9]

Clementine (series) by Sara Pennypacker. [ages 7-10]


The Littles series by John Peterson.  Meet the Little family.  They are just like humans but much smaller with tails and live secretly among humans.  [ages 6-10]


Cobble Street Cousins Series (6 books)  by Cynthia Rylant and Wendy Anderson Halperin.   Wonderfully sweet and beautifully illustrated.  Perfect for girls graduating from Henry and Mudge. [ages 5-7] 

Mr. Putter and Tabby Series by Cynthia Rylant.  Retired Mr. Putter and his old cat Tabby have sweet little adventures together despite their doddering age.  If you are ready to move beyond Henry and Mudge, this is the perfect next move up.  [ages 5-8]. 


Thimbleberry Stories by Cynthia Rylant.  I do confess that I love this author.  In this book, Cynthia Rylant channels Beatrix Potter writing sweet short stories about meadow animals. [ages 6-8]






Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant.  My second grader loved this book so much that she checked it out from the library after hearing her teacher read it aloud to her class. She highly recommends this to ANYONE!  She needs a little bit of help as there are lots of SAT vocabulary words on every page.  [ages 6-10]

A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.  This is my midde daughter’s all time favorite book for 2nd grade.  It was a little difficult for her to read on her own, so we spent the summer prior to 2nd grade reading it together.  She keeps asking her teacher for a book like this and her teacher, sorry, no other books as good as this one.   We also read Chester Cricket’s Pigeon Ride and it’s ok, it’s basically a short story about one evening when Chester Cricket makes a new pigeon friend and gets a ride above NYC.   But after trying to finish Chester Cricket’s New Home, my daughter decided to just find a new series because the sequels were disappointing.  Oh well, she’s been reading puppy stories…more on that later!

The Short List for Baby Equipment

Every new parent seems to get caught in the baby equipment trap including me.  The amount of baby equipment we bought and used minimally for our oldest could sink a ship.  We didn’t think we’d have a third kid so we had given away all our baby equipment after the first two.  This was the list we bought the third time around, and I would still trim down if I had to do it all over again.

1)  Best Stroller.  I lived in the city for the first two kids so this stroller works well in the city. My husband insisted that the stroller recline because he hated when his darling’s head rolled forward when asleep.  He also insisted on a 5-point harness strapping system.  I needed on a stroller that could collapse with just one hand, a necessity when you are holding your child and still have to collapse the stroller.  An added bonus is the strap that allows you to carry collapsed stroller on your back and still carry baby.  I hit situations on the subway where connecting subway stops requires traversing several flights of stairs because there was no elevator.  I also like a light stroller.  This one is about 6 pounds.

When we visited NYC, we noticed all the moms used this stroller.  So, a caveat, this is a great stroller for city living.  Works fine for suburban life too.  There are other great strollers that are less expensive, but this worked for us.

Maclaren Volo Stroller, $130.   (click on picture to purchase at






Best Double Stoller.  I had a MacClaren double stroller but didn’t love it because it was very wide, very heavy and hard to open and close.  If I had to do over, I would splurge on the Phil and Ted’s Sports Stroller.  It’s all terrain, streamlined, and just so cool.  Moms at her baby music class raved about it.  This might be an item I’d suggest putting on a baby shower list so that everyone chips in for one big present, and at $539, it’s expensive!

2.  Best Car Seat.  Hands down the safest car seat is the  Britax Roundabout Convertible Car Seat.  This is the car seat I should have bought the first time around and used for all three.  Again, not the cheapest at $209 but very safe and LASTS.  I only used convertible car seats for my first two.  I broke down and bought the Peg Prego infant car seat system with the car seat that snaps out and into a stroller so my little darling could sleep undisturbed.  I didn’t have this for the first two.  I think that it really depends on your baby.  My first was a sound sleeper so it was fine to physically remove her from her convertible car seat and put into a stroller or baby bjorn.  My second was a light sleeper so having an infant car seat that snaps out was helpful. I borrowed this from a friend and used for only about 6 months.  The usefulness of an infant system can be priceless but the longevity is short so I’d suggest trying to borrow one if you can.  The upside is also that you can get rid of it by returning to owner the minute you are done.

3)  Best Baby Carrier.  Baby Bjorn.  Yes, a little confusing to figure out, but we used this a lot and my babies loved being in it.  Not true for all babies, especially active babies.

4) Best High ChairPeg Prego makes a nice sturdy one but it is a little pricey at $197.99.  We had a less expensive one for our first two but I should have bought this one first and used it  for all three.  My friend raved that this high chair the best splurge she ever spent on baby equipment.  The Chicco Caddy Hook On Chair is also great if you have a thick, sturdy table to attach it to.  It’s very space-efficient and easy to clean.


5) Best Breast Pump.  Medela.  If you need to pump at work in a time-efficient way, the more powerful and more expensive one is worth the money.  I didn’t need to pump that regularly so the less powerful, $100ish one was fine, just a little slow. This one is about $273.99. 


6) Baby Exersaucer.  I don’t have a specific preference but I will say that it was a lifesaver from about 4 months until her darling walked but the minute after that, the exersaucer needed to go.  I recommend borrowing if you can.  It’s still a little pricey, takes up a ton of space, and you only need for about 6 months or so. 

7) Infant Bathtub.  I definitely needed one but can’t remember which one I used.  The only thing I remember is that her infant tub was big and difficult to store as she had the world’s tiniest bathroom.  But again, I recommend borrowing if possible because you don’t need it for very long and it does take up a decent amount of space.

8) Bundle Me.  Now that it’s chilly out, I remembered how useful the Bundle Me was.  It fits on an infant carrier bucket or the Maclaren stroller and probably most other strollers.  It’s like a sleeping bag for baby.  It’s especially nice when your baby falls asleep and then you go indoors because it’s easier to open it up so your baby doesn’t get too hot versus taking the snowsuit off.  The only thing is that it’s lasts from infants to around 2 years old, depending on how long your child is.


Not Necessary for Me … But Other Moms Swear by It

1) Bouncy Seat.  I owned three different ones at one point and my babies hated every single one.  A complete waste of money and space for me, but some of my mom friends swore by it.  So I’d would advise try to borrow to at least see if it’s worth the money and space.

2) Crib. I abide by Drs. Sears and Sears and co-slept with her babies.  I do not know any mom who nursed for 12 months or beyond without co-sleeping with their babies; however, one mom from my college freshman dorm  just emailed that she was able to do it.  But for me, I do not function very well when sleep deprived and my babies were not great sleepers at night until they were weaned.  A crib was not necessary for me but I am a strange anomaly.  My babies went straight to regular beds.  I realizes that this is unusual but I can’t give advice on the perfect crib having never used one.

3) Baby Monitor.  Nope, didn’t really need it but I also lived in VERY small spaces so it wasn’t necessary.  My sister loved the video baby monitor but she’s a techy type. 

4) Pack and Play.  Nope, never used it.  Other moms found it immensely helpful but I didn’t have the space and never missed it.  I hear these are great to have when traveling to use instead of a crib.

5) Baby Walker.  My oldest LOVED the walker but sadly after a week or so her pediatrician told her to nix it.  Seems it contributes to lots of accidents and delays your darling’s brain development for gross motor skills.  Something about your child not being able to see his feet as he moves scrambles their brain and delays their ability to walk.

Favorite Picture Books That Teach Math Concepts

Pragmatic Mom’s oldest child is a visual learner so combining picture books with math concepts was a great way for her to get an intuitive feel for math.  Here’s some books we’ve enjoyed.  If you want to purchase any of the them, please click on the image of the book to buy at

Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz.  A funny story about a boy whose allowance burns a hole in his pocket.  Currency and subtraction are imbedded into the story.  [ages 4-9]

Chicka, Chicka 123 by Bill Martin Jr., Michael Sampson and Lois Ehlert.  Sequel to Chicka Chicka ABC, this book is perfect for a child learning to count to 100.  W use the front and back inside covers to count to 100, count by 10’s, and count by 5’s.  It’s also fun to point out patterns because the numbers are wonderfully color coded as in, hey look how all the numbers in this column end in the number 2!  [ages 2-7]

Telling the Time by Heather Amery.  My five-year-old loves to move the hands of the clock.  It has taught him analog time by the hour and it also has one page to the half hour.  [ages 3-6]

Clocks and More Clocks by Pat Hutchins.  This is a good book to see if your child understands how to apply telling time to a real life situation.  There are different analog times displayed throughout the book in different ways from on the hour, to the half hour, etc.  You can just read the book and enjoy the story, but you can also use this book to practice telling the time.  [ages 4-8]

Ninety-Three in My Family by Erica S. Perl.  A really run rhyming book that is also a great story book . You can sneak math in by counting the 93 members of the family using the handy chart in the back.  Her website has other games and activities incorporating math with her book.   [ages 3-7]

Chimp Math:  Learning About Time from a Baby Chimpanzee by Ann Whitehead Nagda.

Minnie’s Diner:  A Multiplying Menu by Dayle Ann Dodds and John Manders.  The story is so fun that your child doesn’t even realize that s/he is being exposed to the concept of multiplication.  [ages 4-8]

The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang.  Mind stretching math riddles for kids that can visualize math in their heads.  Perfect for kids learning multiplication and skip counting.  [ages 5-9]

The Monster Money Book by Loreen Leedy.  Perfect for budding entrepreneurs as well as  kids learning how to handle their allowance.  [ages 4-9]

Mission Addition by Loreen Leedy.  A visual presentation of addition, perfect for little ones.  [ages 3-7]

Fraction Action by Loreen Leedy.  Fractions are presented in a visual and easy-to-understand way.  [ages 5-8]

Panda Math: Learning About Subtraction from Hua Mei and Mei Sheng by Ann Whitehead Nagda.

Polar Bear Math:  Learning About Fractions  from Klondike and Snow by Ann Whitehead Nagda.

Cheetah Math:  Learning About Division from Baby Cheetahs by Ann Whitehead Nagda.

Tiger Math: Learning to Graph from a Baby Tiger by Ann Whitehead Nagda.

How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz and Steven Kellogg.  It can be hard to describe large numbers to little ones and this book does a great job teaching the concept of a million.  [ages 4-7]

A Grain of Rice by Helena Clare Pittman.  A novel about how a humble farmer is rewarded with a single grain of rice which is doubled every day for 100 days.  A great way to learn about exponential growth…and then talk about this can apply things like saving money!  [ages 7-10]

October 5, 2009

Favorite Picture Books You’ve Never Heard Of

I love picture books; it’s a complete story in 24ish pages with a beginning, a middle and an end.  It’s a visit to an art gallery or a museum with beautiful artwork in all kinds of media — drawings, paintings, collages, and more.  It can transport you to another time and place, a different culture, or a different person’s point of view.  Picture books are NOT just for young children; I insist they are for everyone, adult and child alike.  My 4th grader’s teacher is reading Patricia Polacco’s picture books to the class and the kids are thoroughly enjoying them.  Picture books also make bedtime stories a pleasure because one reader can satisfy a wide audience. 

I  recommend these particular books highly because I don’t mind reading them umpteen times and my kids actually choose them for bedtime stories.   The picture books with an older age span are wonderful for rich vocabulary and many will transport you to other times and places both real and imaginary.  Enjoy!

You can find them on Amazon (click on picture of book to purchase there) or at your local library.  The list is in alphabetical order by author’s last name in case you are searching at the library.  A great resource that many of these books came from is Great Books for Girls and Great Books for Boys, both by Kathleen Odean.  Other entries came from book lists from elementary schools around the country and book lists from libraries.  Most of the authors have written many other books that are also excellent so if your child likes a particular book, I suggest doing an author study.

Click on the image of the book to purchase at

The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M. T. Anderson.  Based on a true story set in 1817, this is the story of a sea serpent who came to Gloucester.  [ages 4-9]






The Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold.  A ten-year-old girl fights for better working conditions during the industrial revolution.  Based on a true story.  [ages 5-9]

The Shape Game by Anthony Browne.  A trip to the museum turns into a drawing adventure.  Artists and doodles will love this book!  [ages 4-7]

From Here to There by Margery Cuyler.  A great way to get a sense of geography as a little girl travels from her house to the universe.  [ages 3-7]





The Empty Pot by Demi.  Trying your hardest and telling the truth wins a little boy a kingdom. [ages 4-8]

The Greatest Power by Demi.  The sequel to The Empty Pot.  [ages 4-8]






Hot Day on Abbott Avenue by Karen English.  Wonderfully illustrated with collage art, this is a story about a hot day in an inner city.  [ages 4-8]





A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee.  James and Eamon go to Nature Day Camp sort of learn about nature but have the best week ever!  [ages 4-8]






Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham.  A classic that I loved as a child that is now a favorite of my kids.






Dog Magic by Carla Golembe.  A story about how a little girl named Molly Gail overcomes her fear of dogs.  [ages 409]






Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson.  Clara is a slave who escapes to freedom by creating a quilt that maps the way to freedom.  [ages 5-9]

Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard and E.B. Lewis.  Set in Reconstruction Tennessee, Virgie, a girl, goes to school to learn to be free. [ages 5-9]

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  An African-American  little boy living in an urban city spends the day exploring after a big snow.  A beautifully illustrated story.  [ages 2-7]

The Mysterious Tadpole by Steven Kellogg.  A little boy’s mysterious tadpole grows too big to keep in his family’s apartment so he must come up with a plan to save it.  [ages 3-8]

Mr. Tanen’s Ties by Maryann Cocca-Leffler.  Mr. Tanen’s zany ties delight the kids at his school, but when the school superintendent insists he wear plain ties, something unexpected happens.  [4-8]

Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester.  A rat with a lisp becomes the unlikely class hero. [ages 4-8]

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin.  A little Asian girl wonders why her garden is filled with ugly vegetables but, after a delicious soup, finds that her neighbors want ugly vegetables in their gardens as well. [ages 4-8]

How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long.  A hilarious story of how Jeremy Jacob becomes a pirate. [ages 3-7]






Halibut Jackson by David Lucas.  Halibut Jackson overcomes his shyness and your child will have fun finding him hidden in every page. [ages 2-7]

Hog-Eye by Susan Meddaugh.  A little girl pig uses her wits to outsmart a wolf. [ages 3-8]

Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman.  Moses and his friends are all deaf and they take a class field trip to a symphony to meet a deaf percussionist.  [ages 4-8]

My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa M. Mollel.  Set in Tanzania, Saruni saves his money to buy something special to help out his mother.  [ages 4-9]






The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.  A feminist take on a princess story in which the princess rescues the bum prince.  [ages 4-8]

Zen Shorts by Jon Muth.  Chinese philosopher Chuang Tze made accessible for kids. [ages 5-8]

Thank You,  Mr. Falker by Patricia Pollaco.  This is her story about how her teacher diagnosed her learning diability and helped her to learn to read.  My kids both raved about it.  [ages 6-10]






Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman.  School safety has never been so hilarious. [ages 4-8]

Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner.  A beautifully illustrated book about a tiger looking for his smith with a zen message.  [ages 3-6]





Ish by Peter Reynolds.  My preschool-aged son drew a “tree-ish” painting after the teacher read this book to the class about a boy who is discouraged by his paintings but then realizes that “ish” is better than painting realistically.  [ages 3-7]





Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson.  A bookmaker’s daughter during the 1400’s saves the day by helping her father illustrate a book.  Gorgeously illustrated.  [ages 5-9]

When I Was Young In the Mountains by Cynthia RylantA spare but beautiful story of a simple life growing up in West Virginia.  [ages 6-8]






Tea with Milk by Allen Say.  A Japanese-American young lady must adjust to living in Japan.  [ages 5-9]

A Symphony of Whales by Steve Schuch.  A beautiful and haunting story about a Siberian girl who comes up with a plan to save hundreds of beluga whales trapped by ice.  [ages 4-9]

Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka.  My little son loves this book about an alien boy who has a really great excuse about why he’s late for school.  The book uses words from many different languages which are fun to decode.  [ages 4-7].






Preschool to the Rescue by Judy Sierra.  Preschool-age kids love to act out this book about a sticky icky mud puddle with their trucks.  [ages 2-5]





Wild About Books by Judy Sierra and Marc Brown.  A loving tribute to Dr. Seuss in the style of Dr. Seuss about a library in a zoo.  [ages 3-7]

Don’t Say Ain’t by Irene Small.   Dana learns to navigate two worlds:  an advanced integrated school and the friends she has at home.  [ages 5-10]






Saving Sweetness by Diane Stanley.  A funny story about a Sweetness, an orphan, helps the sheriff capture outlaw Coyote Pete.  [ages 4-7]

Doctor DeSoto by William Steig.  A dentist and his wife who are mice outwit a fox. [ages 3-8]






The Gardener by Sarah Stewart.  An uplifting story about a girl who lives during the end of the Great Depression. [ages 4-9]

Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnel.  A true story set in 1914 about getting a little girl to her grandmother’s house seventy-five miles away.  [ages 4-8]





A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. Finally it’s time that mom gets to buy something for herself and finding the perfect chair is not easy.  [ages 4-8]





Yoko by Rosemary Wells.  Yoko gets bullied because her lunch and snack are different from her classmates.  [ages 4-8]






Night, Night, Stars So Bright by Noreen Wenjen.  The perfect toddler bedtime story.  [ages 2-6]

October 4, 2009

Learn Multiplication and Division Facts

Pragmatic Mom was slow to get her oldest to master multiplication facts.  By the middle of third grade, my daughter was tested weekly on multiplication; times twos, times five and times ten were not so hard but then all of a sudden, we had a week to learn x3, then another week for x4, and on and on.  Yikes.  A fast way to learn multiplication was in order.  Luckily, my mom friend was a third grade teacher.  She found that some children learn very effortlessly though song.  These are the skip-counting songs that she taught in her classroom.   Although, my daughter wasn’t that excited to sing these songs, hearing them sung incessantly helped her to master multiplication, and these songs work even better for division.

Skip Counting Songs to Learn Multiplication (and Division)

Times 8 — This is best song.  Sing to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain”

8, 16, 24, 32….40!

48, 56, 64….72!

8 times 10 equals 80, 8 times 11 equals 88, and 8 times 12 is 96…. Hurrah!  Hurrah!

Times 7 – Sing to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (which incidentally is the same tune as the ABC song)

7, 14, 21

28, 35, 42

49, 56, 63, 70

7, 14, 21

28, 35, 42

Times 4 – Sing to tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”

4, 8, 12, 16

20, 24

28, 32, 36, and 40

44, 48

Times 6- Sing to tune of “The Star Spangled Banner”

6, 12, 18 24

30, 36

42, 48, 54….60

Times 3 – Sing to tune of  “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine”

3, 6, 9

12, 15

18 and 21

24, 27, 30 and 33.

Multiplying by 9’s Digit Trick

This link is great because it has great visuals:’s-in-Multiplication-Using-Your-Hands

Spread your hands in front of you

Spread your hands in front of you

Spread out your hands in front of you. Make sure that all ten fingers are showing.

  • 2
    Count out and fold the finger

    Count out and fold the finger

    From the left, count as many fingers as the number you want to multiply nine with. Say you want to multiply nine by four. Count four fingers from the left and then put the fourth finger down.

  • 3

    Count the fingers to the left of the folded finger. In this example, there are three. This is the first digit of your answer. Write it down.

  • 4

    Count the fingers to the right of the folded finger. In this example, there are six. This is the second digit of the answer. Write it down to the right of the number you wrote down in the previous step. In this case, the number will now read 36 or thirty-six.

  • 5

    There you go! You have the answer to the multiplication problem.

  • More examples using this method

    1. 1


      One multiplied by nine.

    2. 2


      Two multiplied by nine.

    3. 3


      Three multiplied by nine.

    4. 4


      Four multiplied by nine.

    5. 5


      Five multiplied by nine.

    6. 6


      Six multiplied by nine.

    7. 7


      Seven multiplied by nine.

    8. 8


      Eight multiplied by nine.

    9. 9


      Nine multiplied by nine.

    10. 10

      Now, almost everyone knows what 9×10 is. 9×10=90



    8 x 8 Math Fact Rhyme

    Her teacher taught the class this rhyme that has enabled her 4 year-old brother to master this one math fact (8  x 8):

    I ate and I ate until I threw up on the floor,

    so 8 times 8 is 64!

    Pragmatic Mom also likes flash cards.  The easy way is just to sort cards by what your child knows, and focus on the cards that s/he is learning.  Another slightly more fun way is to pick all the cards out of a box and if you know the card you take it out, if not, put it back.  Keep doing it until the box is empty.

    Free and Fun Multiplication Math Games

    My 4th grade daughter’s teacher sent home these math games.  She plays them daily and she loves them!  Games 2 and 3 are her favorite!

    1.  This website gives 60 second math fact tests.  When the 60 seconds is up, the student is able to see which math facts they mastered as well as the ones they got wrong.  My daughter thinks this game is boring so start with this one.
    2.  In previous years, this website has been a class favorite.  It offers each student the opportunity to practice the particular math fact that they are working on.  For example, if a student has trouble with the 5’s, they can consistently practice just that skill.   This is my daughter’s favorite game as well.  It’s great to practice by a particular fact family; I think it’s easier to learn facts this way as well. 
    3. This website usually sparks the most interest in mastering multiplication facts.  It offers students the opportunity to host their own car racing game or join in on a car race with others.  In order to get your car moving, you need to gas it up by answering a multitude of basic math fact problems correctly.  It truly is a ton of fun.  My daughter likes this game but the multiplication facts can be easy.  In a race, there might be 5 facts that are times 1.  The game gives you the problems you get wrong, plus this slows your race car down.   
    Pragmatic Mom suggests playing three games per session.  Start with game #1 as it’s the most boring of the three.  Next go to game two and work on a particular x factor.  Game #3 is really fun because you race against yourself or other kids.

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