Pragmatic Mom

February 5, 2010

Books That Teach Compassion

Thank you to the reader who suggested a posting on books that teach compassion.  This will be a “rolling” list.  Please comment with your suggestions to add to this posting and we can build this list together!

If you want to purchase a book, please click on the image of the book to buy at Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Hooway For Wodney Wat by Helen Lester.  Rodney Rat’s lisp makes him very shy until one day when his lisp makes him a hero.  [Picture Book, ages 4-7]

 

Halibut Jackson by David Lucas.  Halibut Jackson is so shy that he makes special outfits so he will blend in with his surroundings.  At a party for the King and Queen, he miscalculates and accidentally stands out.  Everyone loves his outfit and requests one so he opens a successful store and learns that he’s not so shy after all.  [Picture Book, ages 4-7]

 

It’s Ok to Be Different by Todd Parr.  A lovely and appealing book that sends a message that what makes us different also makes us special.  [Picture Book, ages 3-6]

 

Yoko by Rosemary Wells.  I have selected this book because it’s about bullying and acceptance.  Yoko is Japanese brings “weird” food to lunch and snack and everyone in her class makes fun of her.  Her teacher frets and comes up with a plan to have an International Food Day.  This is a great success except no one tries Yoko’s food, except at the end, Timothy tries it and loves it and becomes Yoko’s good friend throughout the rest of this series.  [Picture Book, ages 4-7] 

Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells.  Yoko is back and this time the story is about “girl” bullying.  Yoko does things differently; she writes her name in Japanese, she brings in a Japanese book that reads left to write, and she writes her numbers in a strange way.  Two classmates think that Yoko isn’t going to graduate from Kindergarten because she can’t write her name.  When Yoko is upset and hides under a table, a kind classmate, Angelo, befriends Yoko and tells her she knows a secret language that he wants learn.  The tables are turned on graduation day when the girl bullies panic that they can’t write their names in Japanese and won’t graduate but Yoko shows them in time for the graduation march.  [Picture Book, ages 5-8]  

Thank You Mr Falker by Patricia Polacco.  Tricia has difficulty reading and Mr. Falker figures out that she is dyslexic which is life-changing.  [Picture Book, ages 6-12]

 

Mr. Lincoln’s Way by Patricia Pollaco.  Principal Mr. Lincoln can see the good in a bully and gently helps him to find his way.  [Picture Book, ages 6-12]

 

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson.  A Newbury Honor book.  I actually have to read this book but my middle daughter had it for a holiday book club because the mom wanted to have the kids think about others who are less fortunate.  The story line is about a happy vagrant living under a bridge in Paris who suddenly has to share his space with a widow and her three children.  He finds that eventually he feels compelled to help the family find a permanent home.  [Chapter Book for Newly Independent Readers, ages 7-10]

Rules by Cynthia Lord.  Having a special needs younger brother is hard on twelve-year-old Catherine.  On the one hand, she protects him by giving him rules to follow so he can fit in better. On the other hand, she’s embarrassed about him.  When she meets an older boy with a physical special need, they connect but is she too embarrassed to invite him to the school dance?  Will her friends accept him?  Is she misjudging her friends?  [Chapter Book for Grades 3-5, ages 8-12] 

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan.  Percy Jackson keeps getting kicked out of school because something bad always happens.  It’s not really his fault that bad accidents happen when he’s on a school field trip.  He’s also dyslexic and has A.D.D.  When he finds out his special needs are due to the fact he’s a half-blood (half mortal, half Greek God), it’s up to him to prevent WWIII from happening when a lightening bolt is stolen from Zeus.  [Chapter Book Grades 3-5, ages 8-16]

Advertisements

February 4, 2010

Choosing a Music Teacher

My sister is a piano teacher in California.  She has a three-year wait list and her students have rich and rigorous experience that includes not just the requisite recital, but monthly performance workshops, classical musical competitions, and juried piano recitals to earn certifications of merit.  Her students are serious about piano and practice everyday and the time commitment is a significant one.

Our  piano teacher is less rigorous than my sister because I had to coax my children into taking piano lessons.  Our teacher is less rigorous, and the repertoire is less classical.  My oldest dabbled in piano for 5 years then recently switched to flute with a new teacher who flute studio is more similar to my sister’s approach.  But because my oldest truly loves to play flute, she can commit to high level of dedication and daily practice sessions have become less of a chore for her.

My experience with choosing a music teacher is:

  • Pick a teacher whose personality is compatible with both your child and you.  This is potentially a long relationship and your  music teacher will start to feel like part of the family.  …and breaking up is hard to do!
  • While there are advantages to starting music lessons early, there are also drawbacks.  Make sure that your child’s first experience with music teacher (instrument not mommy and  me classes) is a positive one so your child doesn’t get turned off permanently.
  • I have talked to professional musicians who have said that a particular instrument “called out” to them and sometimes at an surprisingly early age.  Listen to what your child says if she repeatedly asks for music lessons for a particular instrument.  That being said, give your child the opportunity to try many instruments. “Quitting” an instrument doesn’t necessarily mean your child is a quitter.   And transferring from one instrument to another does not necessarily mean starting all over again from the bottom.  My oldest started with piano, took percussion in 4th grade, quit percussion after 1 month, but then found the flute and loves it.  My sense is that she will be playing flute for a long, long time!
  • Getting your child to practice on a daily basis is never easy.  It’s the rare child who will initiate practice on her own on a consistent basis.  Apparently there are bookshelves full of books on how to get your child to practice.  I’ll research and blog on this particular topic later.

This MTNA article can be helpful when trying to select a music teacher.  Link:  http://www.mtna.org/Resources/ChoosingaMusicTeacher/tabid/400/Default.aspx

Choosing a Music Teacher

How Do I Find the Right Teacher?

You’ll want a teacher who will inspire and nurture a student’s musical growth and instill lifelong love of music. When seeking a music teacher:

  • Consult with friends, family and others who are acquainted with teachers in your community.
  • Ask for recommendations from local music teacher organizations, music stores,  schools or churches.
  • Arrange to interview prospective teachers, in person if possible, before making a commitment.
  • Ask permission to attend a recital of the prospective teacher’s students.  (this is a good one because you can “see” ahead as to what kind of progress you can expect from this teacher!)

How do I Interview Prospective Teachers?

Teachers are willing and eager to explain their techniques and objectives. The following are types of questions to ask during the interview:

  • What is your professional and educational experience in music?
  • What is your teaching experience? What age groups do you teach?
  • How do you participate in ongoing professional development?
  • Are you nationally certified by MTNA?
  • Do you have a written studio policy? Will you review it with me?
  • Do you regularly evaluate student progress?
  • What instructional materials do you use?
  • What kinds of music do you teach?
  • What other elements are part of your teaching curriculum?
  • Do you offer group lessons?
  • Do you require students to perform in studio recitals during the year?
  • Do you offer other performance opportunities for your students, such as festivals and competitions?
  • Do you use technology in your studio, such as computers, music instruction software, digital keyboards?
  • How much practice time do you require each day?
  • What do you expect of your students? Their parents?

What is the Parent’s Role?

Parental support in the learning process is vital. Whether or not you know anything about music, take time to listen to your child play, provide exclusive practice time on a quality instrument, and celebrate his or her continued accomplishments.

How is Music Beneficial for All Learners

Today there are unprecedented reasons for making music a part of everyone’s life.

Students taking music lessons now will determine the place of music in America and the value society places on music tomorrow. Regardless of what these students ultimately choose a profession, music making will remain a part of their lives, whether it’s listening to music, attending concerts or serving as leaders in arts associations, and community and church music programs.

Benefits of Music Study:

  • Hearing music stimulates the mind.
  • Music instruction enhances abstract reasoning skills.
  • Grade school students who took music lessons generally scored higher on cognitive development tests.
  • In older people, music helps lower depression and decreases loneliness.
  • Playing an instrument strengthens eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.
  • Music lessons teach discipline, dedication and enable students to achieve goals.


How Important is MTNA Certification?

MTNA’s Professional Certification Program exists to improve the level of professionalism within the field of music teaching and helps the public readily identify competent music teachers in their communities. A Nationally Certified Teacher of Music (NCTM) has demonstrated competence in professional preparation, teaching practices, ethical business management and lifelong learning. An MTNA certified teacher is your best source to facilitate musical learning in an environment that encourages student confidence, independence, teamwork and high achievement. To date, more than 3,500 teachers across the United States have earned the NCTM designation.

My personal take on MTNA certification is that it is not a deal breaker.  (This article is from the MTNA so take this last paragraph with a grain of salt).  My understanding of MTNA certification is that it’s wonderful but also a time-consuming process to apply so not all teachers are willing to go through this.  Type A personalities will tend towards “certifications” but a certification is not necessarily a stamp of approval  that this is a wonderful music teacher for your particular child.

January 29, 2010

Non Fiction Animal/Math Picture Books

My 2nd grader bought these books home from her school library yesterday and I pounced on them.  Apparently, there were three available, but she was only able to check out two.  These books combine a really interesting, behind-the-scenes-at-the-zoo, rescue story about a zoo animal baby and marries it with a mathematical concept.  These books are perfect for grades 2-5.

Polar Bear Math:  Learning About Fractions from Klondike and Snow is the story about two polar bear cubs abandoned by their mother at the Denver Zoo and their fight for survival AND about fractions.

Tiger Math:  Learning to Graph from a Baby Tiger is the story about a tiger born at the Denver Zoo whose mama tiger unexpectedly dies of  cancer when he’s just a cub AND about graphing.

The author, Ann Whitehead Nagda, has an interesting background.  She has a degree in mathematics and worked for IBM.  She travels widely around the world then becomes a docent at the Denver Zoo and starts cranking out these books.  She seems like a really interesting person; I’d love to have her for my neighbor!

Here are her other books:

Cheetah Math:  Learning about Division from Baby Cheetahs

Panda Math: Learning About Subtraction from Hua Mei and Mei Sheng

Chimp Math:  Learning About Time from a Baby Chimpanzee

January 23, 2010

Books for Brand New Readers

It’s so exciting when your child first begins to really read.  I don’t know why, but my kids all hit this milestone in January.  I know that it’s something that has been in the works  for a long time, but, like a bulb planted last Fall and laying nascent, the leaves have sprouted and the bud is finally in bloom!

My first had just turned 6-years-old in Kindergarten, the 2nd was 5 3/4-years-old in Kindergarten, and now my youngest is just starting to read at 5-years-old in Preschool.  There must be something about 4 months of academic exposure at school that coalesces  to explain the January timing.  I wanted to share some of the books that are great for the very newest of readers.  And might I add how much we hated the Bob series books — complete waste of money for us.  My kids thought the Bob books were so boring with absolutely no plot. Try these instead!  And please share your “a ha” moment when you realized your child can read and the book you read.

Sandra Boynton books.  There are so many good ones.  Here’s a few of our favorites that were the among the first books my kids read to me.

Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.  Be sure to spot the mouse on every colored page. An enduring sweet classic.

Cat at Bat by Jon Buller.  Out of these books, this one is slightly harder but with a great story about sportsmanship.

Biscuit series by Alyssa Satin Capucilli.  My middle child loved these sweet and very simple stories.

Five Little Monkey series by Eileen Christelow.  A repetitive plot is a good thing for brand new readers and Eileen’s Five Little Monkeys never fail to please young ones.  I think kids can all relate to being naughty, little monkeys!

Hand, Hand, Fingers Thumb by Al Perkins.  Another classic that can be a full body, drumming experience.

Frogs in Clogs by Sheila White Samton.  A rhyming story with a very limited but rhyming vocabulary AND a plot.

The Good Bad Cat by John Sandford.

The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss.  I used to hold my toddler in my lap and make her feet match the book.  She thought it was hysterically funny.

Max’s Dragon Shirt by Rosemary Wells.  This might be the outlier book but my son says this is the first book he read.  It’s true; we were reading this book and I was thinking that he had memorized it because it’s one of his favorites and we own the entire series but he was actually sounding out the words.

Elephant and Piggie Series by Mo Willems.  My son and I love these books.  Mo Willems wonderful, expressive illustrations practically tell the story and his two starring characters have a lot of personality!  Here’s a few of our favorites.

January 22, 2010

No Flying in the House by Betty Brock

My 7-year-old came home from school two days ago with an important message for me:  “I just read the best book.  You need to add it to your blog.”  I had never heard of No Flying in the House and assumed it was a picture book, though I don’t know why.  My middle daughter is the reason why I created the Favorite Chapter Books for Newly Independent Readers because she refuses to read anything except chapter books.  She proceeded to borrow it from her teacher so that I could save a trip to the library and I have to say that she is right.  This is a great, old-fashioned fairy story.   Our copy was even more charming because it was clearly a really old book with a big chunk of pages taped carefully back into the book.  It looked like a garage sale rescue or a beloved book that was carefully passed down.  No matter!  It’s a find!

I’m a little annoyed with fairy stories in general; I was forced to read way too many Rainbow Fairies books to this same child.  With that same painful repetitive plot.  And even the same vocabulary words.  Over and Over.  It was my idea of hell.

But this is a lovely story about a half-blood fairy.  (I’m reading a lot about half-bloods these days; The Percy Jackson series just arrived at our house yesterday to great fan fare and excitement).  She doesn’t know she’s a fairy and her guardian is a 3 inch talking dog.  There are lots of interesting surprises along the way that both my daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you are in Fairy Hell, try to convince your darling to try this book instead.  It comes highly recommended by their peer who now agrees that the Rainbow Fairies Series is a little boring (and redundant and repetitive!).  We can finally get rid of those books and free up an entire shelf of space!  Yay!  This book is perfect for grades 2-4th.  It’s a chapter book with some illustrations.

Here are some open-ended questions if you want to have a book discussion from my 7-year-old:

  • What is your favorite character and why?
  • What do you think Belinda is trying to do to Gloria?
  • Did you think the book was confusing?  Why or why not?
  • Have you ever read a similar book to this one?
  • Was this an interesting book?
  • When Gloria is in her fairy world, do you think she’s still a 3 inch dog?
  • Do you think you are half-fairy?  How would you know?

If you want a related activity, she suggests, use sculpy clay to mold a 3 inch animal or a character from the book.  Or try to design a fairy world.  Draw it or create a diaorama.

As always, to purchase this book, simply click on the image of book and you will be magically transported to this particular book at Amazon.com.

January 20, 2010

Favorite Books For Reluctant Boy Readers

Filed under: Age: Grade 3-5,Age: Grade K-2 — Pragmatic Mom @ 4:21 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I  love to find books that excite reluctant readers.  The key is to find that magic intersection that marries your child’s just-right level with content that matches their interest and a layout that is visually appealing (small chunks of text broken by pictures, larger font size, etc.).  Alas, this is a moving target.  I have an actual person that I select these books for, my youngest son’s best friend’s older brother who is a 4th grader with my oldest. 

My mom friends have had success with these books for their reluctant boy readers and suggests you try them.  If you want to purchase a book, click on the image of the book to buy at Amazon.com.

The Secret of Droon Series by Tony Abbott. If your son is interested in the world of wizards, but Harry Potter is too dense, this is a great series.  The type is large.  [ages 6-9].

 

The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.  Alexander’s epic Prydain series has 5 books:  The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High KingThe Black Cauldron won a Newbery Honor Award and the The High King won the Newbery Medal.   Similar to The Hobbit series but not as intimindating to read, The Foundling is a “prequal” composed of 6 short stories with illustrations throughout and just 86 pages with decent sized type.  If your child likes The Foundling, try the first book of the series called The Book of Three

If your child likes the Beast Quest series and is ready to take the next level up, try this series. 

 

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]

 

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney.  When Eben McAllister is challenged by his pa to discover wonders in his small farming community, he finds the extraordinary in a doll, a bookcase, a saw, a table, a ship in a bottle, a woven cloth, and more.  [ages 7-12]

If your child liked The Enormous Egg or How to Eat Fried Worms, this is a good choice.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. [ages 8-11]

 

The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth.  Twelve-year-old Nate Twitchell hatches a strange egg laid by one of the hens on his family farm that turns out to be a baby Triceratops.  If you can imagine The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg made into a novel in the vein of Homer Price by Robert McCloskey then that would be The Enormous Egg.  [ages 8-12]

 

How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.  A hilarious book in the vein of Diary of a Wimpy Kid about an young wimpy Viking boy named Hiccup who, like all Viking boys, must capture and train a dragon as a rite of passage.  Hiccup emerges as a hero when his forbidden “dragon whispering” ability and wits saves his village from two gigantic dragons. [ages 6-10]

 The BFG by Roald Dahl. [ages 8-11]

 

 26 Fairmont Avenue by Tomie DePaola.  Beloved author of Strega Nona fame has an autobiographical series covering 1938 through WWII.  Not all the books are in print but you can find them at your public library in the biography section.  [ages 7-11]

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  This is probably one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life.  When I read it with my daughter, I finished after she went to bed because it’s that good…a page turner you can’t put down.  When I asked older siblings of my kids’ friends about what books they read over the summer, we’d both swoon with fond remembrance about how good this book is.  Although the main character is a girl who’s adjusting to moving to a new small town after her mother leaves her and her father, the story will appeal to boys as well.   Please read this book, it’s fantastic!  This won a Newbery Award but if there were an all-time Newbery Award Winner, this book would win it!  [ages 8-12]

The Trouble with Lemons by David Hayes.  My daugher’s flute teacher said this was her son’s all time favorite book in 3rd grade.  She said he was also a reluctant reader in 3rd grade.

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill.  Historical fiction about a teacher who comes to rural Alaska and changes the lives of her students.  This book is pretty short with decent sized text.  I’d try it as young as reluctant 3rd grade readers but really great for 4th or 5th grade boys as well.  [ages 7-10]

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney.   Both boys and girls can relate to this humorous “novel in cartoons” series about a boy coping with the social issues of middle school.  [ages 7-10]

If your child liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid, try How to Train a Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Rodrick Rules. 

 

 Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Dog Days

Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  The Last Straw

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Do-It-Yourself-Book (To create your own comic book)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.  I loved this book as a child and it’s being made into a movie which might prompt reluctant readers to seek this out.  Claudia convinces her little brother, Jamie, to run away with her to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her, not so much as she’s mad, but just for an adventure…to be different.  They discover a mystery at the museum and end up at New York social fixture Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’s house to solve it.  It’s a great read.  It’s about the same level as the Ramona The Pest series. 

I just tried this book out with my 10-year-old and she had difficulty getting into the book.  The plot was confusing to her because it’s told from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler point of view as a letter she writes  to her attorney, who has ties to the Claudia and Jamie Kincaid.  [ages 9-14]

The EarthSea  series by Ursula LeGuin.  A reader suggested this series; see her comment below.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  Grace Lin is the Amy Tan for the elementary school set.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is an Asian-American version of the Percy Jackson series starting with The Lightening Thief. Where Riordan weaves in Greek Mythology into his plot, Grace Lin uses Chinese Folk Tales into a wonderful, inspiring and heart-warming story that teaches all of us to just… BELIEVE.   This book was listed twice as a favorite book on my kids’ elementary school newspaper.  [ages 8-12]

Rules by Cynthia Lord.  A really wonderful story about a girl whose special needs brother and special needs friend help her to discover the courage to just be herself.  Because the book is set in the present day and deals with topics that public school kids are familiar with such as fitting in, being embarrassed about people you love, and accepting special needs children, it’s very appealing and relatable.  It’s a Newbery Medalist.  [ages 8-12]

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. A funny tale of a dysfunctional family in which both the parents and children plot to get rid of each other.  The kids, naturally, emerge victorious.  Add in a loving nanny, an abandoned baby, a candy billionaire neighbor with a long-lost son and a happy ending.  This book has largish type and illustrations scattered throughout so it’s a great read at the level of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  [ages 7-11]

The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil by Wiley Miller.  A completely delightful story of a boy who finds adventure when a man in a hot air balloon passes by his window.  The book has large print and illustrations so it’s perfect for reluctant boy readers.  If he enjoys this book, there is a sequel, Attack of the Volcano Monkeys.   [ages 7-10]

 

Shiloh series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  This was a book that my oldest daughter’s entire grade was assigned to read.  Pragmatic Mom polled the play date kids that hang out at her house and it got a big thumbs up.  [ages 8-12]

The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park.  Set in 15th century Korea, Korea’s Golden Age, two brothers — one  skilled in kite making and the other skilled in  kite flying — combine their skills to compete in a kite flying contest on behalf of the king.  [ages 7-12]

If your child liked The Kite Fighters, try A Single Shard by the same author which won the Newbery Medal.

 

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.  Set in 12th century Korea during the Koryo era, an orphan who ends up working for a celebrated celadon potter is able to realize his own potential.  [ages 8-12]

If your child liked The Kite Fighters or The Rickshaw Girl, this is a good choice.

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins.  Set in Bangladesh, a daughter of a sick rickshaw driver strives to earn money for her family.  The length of this book is not intimidating and there are small illustrations scattered throughout to break up the chapters.  If your child can read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this is a great book to read independently with a smidge of help.   [ages 7-12] 

If your child liked Rickshaw Girl, try The Kite Fighters or A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck.  I have just discovered this Newbery Award-winning author and I have to say he’s an amazing story teller.  A Year Down Yonder is the Newbery Award winning book, and it’s the sequel to A Long Way From Chicago.  While this book is set in a small country bumpkin town during the Great Depression, it’s a hilarious story about fifteen-year-old Mary Alice who is sent to live with her Grandma for a year during the Great Depression while her parents get situated.  Grandma Dowdel is a force to be reckoned with; her resourcefulness is matched by her heart of gold and Mary Alice’s year is filled with enough drama to fill a newspaper.   A Long Way from Chicago is from Mary Alice’s older brother’s perspective during their eight summers at  Grandma Dowel’s farm and the antics they got into.  It also gives a gentle history on how the Great Depression impacted their community.   [ages 8-12]

 

Fair Weather by Richard Peck.   Thirteen-year-old Rosie Beckett and her siblings’ lives are about to change forever when a distant aunt sends them tickets to visit her in Chicago to visit the 1893 World Fair.  Not only are their adventures hilarious, butyou feel like you are stepping back in time  and visiting the World Fair which would be ten times more amazing than our modern day equivalent of visiting Disney World & Epcot Center.  [ages 8-12]

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riodan.  This is “Harry Potter meets Greek Mythology” and it’s a fantastic read!  It’s such a page-turner that I stayed up to 2 a.m. to finish it!  This is a MUST READ before the movie comes out!

Percy Jackson is an ADD, dyslexic 6th grade hero who has trouble staying in school because, as it turns out, he’s no ordinary human but a half-blood related to one of the big three in Greek Mythology.  He must find and return Zeus’ lost lightening bolt to prevent WWIII.  This series makes Greek Mythology come alive so I’ve included a Greek Mythology book as well.  The level of difficulty is slightly easier than Book 1 of Harry Potter; this book is 375 pages long, normal sized type.  [ages 8-14]

(boxed set of first three books, $11.69)

(boxed set of all 5 books, $51.97)

 How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell.  Can Billy win the bet by eating a worm a day for fifteen days?  
This book has very short chapters with illustrations.  The story is really appealing to boys.   [ages 8-12]

If your child liked How to Eat Fried Worms, try The Enormous Egg  by Oliver Butterworth or The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney.

Holes by Louis Sacar.  Every boy who has read this book seems to love it.  It’s on my list to read.  I’ve read a bunch of other titles by Sacar and his weird, quirky characters seem to really appeal to children.  [ages 8-11]

The Light at Tern Rock by Julia Sauer.  A boy and his aunt are stranded tending the Tern Rock lighthouse .  What will happen with Christmas right around the corner?  [ages 7-10]

A Series of Unfortunate Events:  The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket.  This is a series about three very unlucky children, the Baudelaire siblings, who are magnets for misfortune.  In the first book,  The Bad Beginning, their family home burns to the ground with their parents inside rendering them orphans.  It goes from bad to worse when they are left in the care of an evil distant relative, Count Olaf.  Fortunately, the children are clever and resilient and their misadventures have a comic book-like appeal.  [ages 6-10]

If your child likes this series, try The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. 

Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan.  An orphan girl who lives in an orphanage for boys rides a horse named Freedom to safety.  [ages 7-10] 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.   This book is deceptively thick because it’s 250+ pages of illustrations that tell part of the story that I call “The Phantom of the Opera” of children’s literature.  Set in 1930’s Paris, Hugo Cabret is an orphan with a talent for all things mechanical.  The key to his future, he believes, is unlocking the secret of an automaton “wonder.”  With other interlocking stories that weave together, this is a riveting story about the power of friendships, magic and perseverance.  [ages 8-12]

 

 Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.  Jeffrey “Maniac” Magee, an orphan and an athlete of legendary acclaim, breaks the racial barrier existing between two neighboring towns. If your child is a reluctant reader, this might be a 4th grade or 5th grade read.  It’s about the same difficulty level as the Ramona the Pest series. [ages 10-15]

Non-Fiction

Invaders from Outer Space by Phillip Brookes.   (Level 3:  Reading Alone) 

Secrets of the Mummies by Harriet Griffey.  (Level 4:  Proficient Readers). 

Ice Mummy, The Discovery of a 5,000-Year-Old-Man by Mark Dubowski and Cathy East Dubowski.  Step 4, Reading Paragraphs, Grades 2-3. 

The Titantic:  Lost and Found by Judy Donnelly.  Step into Reading, Level 4.  Grades 2-3.

Tut’s Mummy, Lost…and Found by Judy Donnelly.  Step 4, Reading Paragraphs, Grades 2-3. 

Owen and Mzee:  The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Craig Hatkoff. [ages 6-10]

Owen and Mzee:  The Language of Friendship by Craig Hatkoff.  [ages 6-10]

The website, The Art of Manliness, has posted a list of 50 Best Books for Boys and Young Men:  http://artofmanliness.com/2009/11/15/50-best-books-for-boys-and-young-men/

January 2, 2010

Introducing Foreign Languages to Your Kids (Spanish and Mandarin Chinese)

I  find that learning a foreign language is very similar to dieting.  Changing my family’s lifestyle was key to successfully incorporating foreign language into my children’s hearts and minds.  Like dieting, crash diets (a.k.a. immersion) is wonderful in jump-starting foreign language acquisition however, without proper maintainance, it’s back to square one.  Again like dieting, there are times when I notice that great strides are being made, but there are also discouraging plateaus in which it seems like my children seem to be forgetting large chucks of what they used to know.  Fear not, just like the tortoise and the hare, perseverance will eventually win the race.

For my kids, I introduced Spanish very early in their lives.  We don’t speak a foreign language at home, so I started by creating  an after-school Spanish class at my first preschool by hiring an outside company to teach a class after school.  Then I found this great tutor from Berklee School of Music who was a native speaker and taught part-time .  My tutor who came to my house was much easier than recruiting a class full of kids!  Alas, my tutor didn’t want to commute to the suburbs when we moved.  My neighbor had spent years in Mexico and had a tutor which I promptly hired.  But, she was not confortable teaching small children and suddenly went AWOL.  Finally, we found a great tutor and have been with her for years and she’s become part of our family.  Yet, after many years of Spanish, I can’t say that my kids chatter amongst themselves in Spanish.  I have to coerce them to speak to the waiter at a Mexican restaurant and nudge them at the checkout line at the grocery store.  Still, the other night, the kids thought it would be fun to test their dad on his Spanish knowledge.  (He has never studied Spanish but knows a lot of words from growing up in California, and sadly, he is the only one in our family who can roll his r’s).  So, they fired off one word after another asking him to say it in Spanish and triumphantly correcting him.  It’s a start, I suppose.

Because we don’t speak a foreign language at home, I set modest goals for my children and my tutors:  focus on their accent.  They started so young (my oldest at 3, my middle at 1 and my youngest at birth) and have a native speaker that they are capable of acquiring a decent accent.  Their tutor speaks only Spanish to them, and only recently has grammar been introduced.

To increase their exposure to Spanish since their lesson is just once a week, I found a useful trick.  I only play DVDs in the car in a foreign language.  I figure that they watch plenty of TV at home, so when I got a new car with a built-in DVD player, I only stocked the car with foreign language DVDs.  Given the choice of no screen time, my kids usually opt for Plaza Sesamo which they don’t consider to be babyish because there is no Elmo.  I also found a great 3 DVD series of Spanish Language instruction for kids called Hola Amigos.  My youngest will request it.  We tried other methods;  Muzzy was a brain-overload.  It was entertaining for about 10 viewings but they didn’t seem to get anything out of it because there is just too much information.  But in order to absorb it, they would need to watch it a hundred more times but after 10 times they are sick of the storyline.   I noticed it’s now $24 on Amazon.  I think I paid close to $200.  For $24, I would say it’s worth it, but not for a penny more.

In terms of a class versus a tutor, I have to say that we have always had more success with a tutor AND we have even more success when each kid goes separately.  It’s more expensive that way, but it works better for us because my kids learn at different rates.  We had the same experience with Chinese; each of my kids has a separate turn with their tutor.  We tried to combine the two girls because they had been at the same Chineese school class for three years, but it just didn’t work.  The younger one got frustrated and was miserable.  Once they all had their own slots, they started to enjoy Chinese.  Imagine that!  They used to say that their favorite part of Chinese class was when they were picked up!  One day, when my children are world travelers, I have this fantasy that my kids will tell me how happy they are that they were forced to learn Spanish and Chinese when they were young.  I’ll keep you posted on that one when it happens!

These are the language DVDS that have worked for us.  If you are interested in purchasing them, click on the image to buy at Amazon.com.

Plaza Sesamo series.  You can also check out at your local library, rent at Netflix, or DVR .  Other children’s TV shows are too advanced for beginners but these are perfect for beginners!

My kids actually enjoy this language DVD series:  Hola Amigos. The lessons are geared towards children and are the perfect length.


This was also a good DVD that my son loved when he was about 2 to 4 years old.  The DVD has familiar songs that captivate small children.  You can set it to play in Spanish with English subtitles.  The English is for the adult, but music is a great way to get small children to hear Spanish.  Because they know all the songs in English, I have a feeling they comprehend the Spanish is a magical, osmosis kind of way.

We also found that playing board games in Spanish was a fun way to practice Spanish.

My kids don’t play this DS game ($24.98) a ton, but my oldest said it was fun and she plays it on her own.

Zingo is a good one for beginners, preschool or elementary school age.

I bought a few of these DVDs, The Standard Deviants,  and they will be perfect for middle school students who study grammar.  They are fun to watch but too advanced for beginners or little kids.

I also tried out Professor Toto Spanish Language Kit.  At $199.00, it’s pricey and I don’t think it’s worth the full amount.  My youngest liked the vocabulary builder DVD that just has a bunch of nouns and verbs put into form sentences.  I’d recommend borrowing it from a friend or buying it used on ebay, but there are other DVDs are just as effective and much less expensive.  This was a little dry for my older two.

I know this sounds insane, but once my kids were on their way with Spanish, I figured that if I didn’t start Chinese soon, they’d have no hope in hell of getting the accent down.  My kids are a quarter Chinese so everyone always asks me why I started them in Spanish rather than an Asian language.  My answer is that Spanish is much easier than Chinese and easier to practice in the real world.  My oldest started Chinese at 5, my middle (off and on because she’d strike) at 3, and my youngest at around 4.  They actually like learning Chinese now because they love their tutor.  Sometimes it takes a few iterations to get it right, but it’s worth it!

I found these DVDs to be very useful.  The PBS show Ni Hao Kailan also has a little Chinese language built into each show.

We also have these DVDs.  My son likes them but the animation is very basic.  It was hard to find Mandarin Chinese DVDs for kids; if I had access to Sesame Street in Chinese I would not have purchased these but I use these to mix it up.

Here’s a DS game that we have not tried yet, but we plan to.  My kids occasionally play the Spanish version.

I have not tried Rosetta Stone but I’ve heard great things about it for adults who want to learn a foreign language but at $299 it’s pricey.  Here’s an article on Rosetta Stone, free online learning and iphone apps from CNN.com:  http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/10/23/learn.language.online/index.html

 

December 31, 2009

Public or Private School?

As my daughter nears middle school, my husband and I have started to wonder…public or private school?   Private school is not something we ever contemplated for our children.  We live in a great public school system and both of us graduated proudly from public school systems in California which were not as good as the school system we currently attend.

I attended an Ivy League college and my recollection, confirmed by others with a similar mediocre high school experience as mine, is that:

— It took me two years to catch up with classmates who went to good high schools.

–There are good public high schools and good private high schools and there are also mediocre private schools.  I only knew three other people from a Catholic high school who were going to college with me and they felt their high school was even worse than mine.

–What were some of the marked differences from the prep school/top public high school  kids and me ?  Foreign languages really stood out.   Despite meeting my foreign language requirement in high school, I tested into beginning French which was basically a remedial class with a dozen of us from bad public high schools and even worse accents.  Good high school = foreign language fluency, as in conversational or being able to read magazines in a foreign language.  Some kids had opportunity to study abroad in high school; not at my school!

Breadth of classes.  My friend from the Catholic High School was envious of a kid from Palo Alto High School (a great public high school) who had Asian History at her school.  I couldn’t believe that my friend from Stuyvesant High School (a magnet school in NYC that routinely sends two dozen kids to Harvard) had economics; micro AND macro!  And my freshman dorm pre-med friend who studied with the nuns in Cleveland really learned how to think, as in problem solve.  He tested into the advanced pre-med chemistry class.  I did not; at my high school, it was more about regurgitation than really understanding how to apply your knowledge…and no AP Chem class either!

I remember bitterly complaining with other like-kind kids and vowing that my kids will never have to play catch up when they go to college!  So my advice would be not so much public or private but how good is the school?  A great public school can kick the pants off a mediocre private school.  There is a list below from the Wall Street Journal about which schools successfully send the most kids off to top schools but if these schools are not an option, dig deep to find out:  1) Is there a study aboard program?  2) How many honor and AP classes are offered?  Look for a wide range of class offerings.  3) How many kids are fluent in one or more foreign languages?  What does the curriculum include?  Language labs?  Small class size?  Native speakers as instructors?  4) What are examples of kids being taught to problem solve versus regurgitate?  5) Finally, where the pedal hits the medal … what is your college placement record?  And the corollary, are you double counting the smart kids that got into multiple top colleges?  What schools are the kids actually ATTENDING.

OK, maybe college placement is getting a little ahead of ourselves.  I do think that it’s not necessarily Ivy League or Bust, but more about the right fit.  The same goes for public versus private school.

My O.B. who lives in the same city as me but at a different elementary school, puts public education into perspective.  She describes her oldest daughter as smart but not a genius, social to a fault, not academically inclined without being pushed, and not disruptive.  In short, to a teacher with 20 plus students, she’s invisible.  Couple that with two working parents who don’t have the time to be omnipresent volunteers at school meant that her daughter was getting no attention.  She switched her to private school by 2nd grade (but she was glad to have 3 years of free public education).  When her daughter got interested in boys, she switched her again to an all-girl school.  In contrast, she says two other doctors at her practice also attend the same elementary school and are having a great experience.  But the kicker…her partners have spouses that are  stay-at-home moms and volunteer like crazy at their school. 

My experience at public elementary school has been mixed and entirely dependent on the luck of the draw.  My middle daughter is having an amazing experience.  My oldest has had great years, medium years, and one god-awful year which, luckily, is not this year.  All in all, public school, with or without volunteering like crazy, has been a pretty good experience.

But, as middle school approaches, our parental anxieties start to heighten.  To be an informed consumer, I started to research private schools in our areas and, more importantly, studies on how children perform in public versus private school settings.  I found some very interesting and surprising results!

New York Times:  Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/15/education/15report.html

But this is contradicted by a NAEP Study:
http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2006461.asp#section5http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2006461.asp#section5                                                                                           
However, according to Science Daily:  Public Schools Outperform Private Schools in Math Instruction http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090226093423.html     
 
An article in the Christian Science Monitor found that “After accounting for students’ socioeconomic background, a new study shows public school children outperforming their private school peers on a federal math exam … When children of similar socioeconomic status were compared, the public school children scored higher.”
http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0510/p11s01-legn.html
  
According to a University of Illinois study:  students in public schools learn as much or more math between kindergarten and fifth grade as similar students in private schools.  In their previous 2005 study, they found that public school students tested higher in math than their private school peers from similar social and economic backgrounds.  Their conclusion:   “school type alone doesn’t explain very much of why these scores vary … in truth, whether the school is public or private doesn’t seem to make that much difference.”
                                                                                                                                       
According to a CEP study (Center on Education Policy), private school students and public school students perform equally on achievement tests in math, reading, science, and history.  The one difference that CEP found between private schools and public schools involves SAT scores. According to the study, private school students have the edge on the SAT. The CEP notes that this could be because private schools tend to offer more test prep resources than do public schools. 
 
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual National Compensation Survey,  public school teachers are paid 61% more per hour than private school teachers, on average nationwide. 
                                                                                                                                       
Here’s a balanced article:  Public Versus Private.  Which is Right for Your Child? 
                                                                                                                                       
Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s 2007 list of Top High Schools by placement at top colleges.
 
Not that this is necessarily the end goal, but here’s an interesting article by the Wall Street Journal on How To Get Into Harvard.
                                                                                                                                       
Our conclusion, though by no means complete, goes something like this:  it is going to cost about $105k to put one child through private middle school.  If that money gets parked in their 529B college fund, it will (hopefully) increase to equal about 2 years of graduate school.  So…wouldn’t it be more impactful on their lives to have graduate school paid for so they are not in debt?  Wouldn’t that be worth going to public middle school?  That is the million, or rather $105k, question we currently ponder.

December 14, 2009

Great Birthday Presents Around $20

One of my mom friends asked for this category.  We just had two birthday parties so I was able to ask my kids what they liked the most from their stack of gifts.  I also periodically check Marshalls and T. J. Maxx for birthday party gifts to stock up my supply– hidden from the kids, of course!.  A great gift for girls is a blank or lined diary or fancy notepad and the Marshalls near my house seems to almost always have great ones for half-off which I like to give with a book (you know me, I love books!). 

To purchase any of the items, click on the image to buy at Amazon.com

Gifts for the Artistically Inclined

Mr. Sketch Smelly Markers, $13.30 

Smencils.  Pencils with a scent.  $14.95 for regular pencils (1st item); colored pencil 10-pack $10.99 (2nd item)

Artist to Artist:  23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art.  Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books. $19.80

Window Mosaic, $15.95.  Make a mosiac to hang on your window.

Window Markers.  My kids LOVE to write and draw on their windows.  Easy wipe off!  $6.32

Bead Bazaar Bead Symphony Bead Kit.

Jewelry Box Sticker Mosaics.  $14.99

 

Friendship Bracelet Wheel by Alex.  $12.51

Gifts for Mad Scientists

Perfumery.  $16.99.  Mix your own perfumes.

Bubble Gum Factory.  Make your own bubble gum.  $19.98.

Scientific Explorer, A Kit for  Studying the Science of Disgusting Things.  $14.67.

Games

Gobbet Junior, tic-tac-toe in 3D.  $18.95

Rush Hour, A Game of Strategy with Cars.  $19.99

Monopoly.  $12.99

Apples to Apples Party Box:  The Game of Hilarious Comparisons. $23.41

 

 Topple.  $9.99

 

Other

Kite, $24.26

Spy Watch, $14.72

December 13, 2009

Best Investment Toys (That Her Kids Played with for Years)

I have always lived in small spaces with my family.  Baby 1 lived in a 550 square foot, one bedroom apartment and two parents.  Baby 2 lived in an 1100 square foot condo with baby 1 and two parents.  Now my family of 5 lives in a small house.  Thus I find it necessary, as always,  to purge toys at least four times a year.  In fact,  as a rule, I tell my kids that for every incoming toy there must be an outgoing one. 

If I knew then what I know now, I would NOT have picked 80% of the toys that I bought.  Instead, I would have saved up for this short list of  toys.  Another idea is to have a wish list that close family friends and relatives contribute towards.  At the end of day, toys that stand the test of time are actually less expensive on a “cost per play” basis than a toy that gets purged within the year.

1) Pragmatic Mom’s Favorite Toy Kitchen

Hands down, I found that simpler is better.  This kitchen is more fun, more creative, more versatile and has great storage to boot.  Her favorite toy kitchen came used from a preschool but you can buy it new from Community Playthings (www.communityplaythings.com).  Yes, it is crazy expensive but it lasts and lasts.  If I were to only buy one piece, I’d buy the stove ($225).  If you can get two pieces, the second piece I’d suggest is the sink. (http://www.communityplaythings.com/products/dramaticplay/woodcrestkitchen/index.html)

These toys really do last.  When I got our kitchen (stove, sink and hutch) from a preschool, the kitchen set  was probably at least  25 years old.  After a quick clean up, it was as good as new.  My kids played with it non-stop for 5 years, and then donated it to another preschool where it will have another 50 years of life, no doubt.

2) Pragmatic Mom’s Favorite Blocks

Again, Community Playthings is the “go to” source for large, heavy blocks that can be turned into anything your child imagines.  I bought two sets of blocks (hollow blocks and mini-hollow)  in lieu of putting her kids in camp six summers ago and the kids still play with these blocks now.  URL is: http://www.communityplaythings.com/products/blocks/index.html

I don’t own the unit blocks but her kids play with them non-stop at preschool.  They are great too.  

3) Pragmatic Mom’s Favorite Building Toy

Pragmatic Mom learned about these gems on a playdate:  Translucent Magna Tiles.  You can buy them online at amazon or find them in a local toy store.   They are pricey at around $120  for the 100 tile set, and sadly, 100 tiles isn’t quite enough.  Two sets are much more versatile.  But this toy is amazing.  The tiles snap together magnetically to create anything from a castle to a disco floor.  My preschool uses them with a light table so that kids can stack tiles to learn about combining colors.  That’s fun but a light table is NOT coming into my house!

Pragmatic Mom welcomes your ideas of investment toys that you thought were worth the money!

4) Cash register, $40.37.   We had to buy more play money and the yellow piece keeps getting lost that my kids still play with this!

5) Melissa and Doug cutting food box, $16.30.  My kids love this toy and we still have all the pieces after more than 4  years!

6) The plastic picnic food and the fruit and vegetable set all work really well with the kitchen set.  These sets  from Learning Resources cost about $22.99 each and were worth every penny!

7) My kids STILL are playing with the toy blender ($20.66)  and mixer ($20.85) but now they are mixing their own concoctions and drinking them. 

8) Razor Scooter ($28.50).  We have three and it never seems like we have enough especially when friends are over.  Just make sure everyone wears a helmet and label your scooters because ours always seem to get mixed up with our neighbors!  They come in different colors as well.

9)  iPod Touch ($179.99).  My girls received the iPod Nano last year for Christmas and I have to admit that it’s been well utilized all year.  They don’t mind watching movies on the small screen which meant we didn’t have to lug portable DVD players on vacation.  They want the iPod Touch…but we’re not upgrading just yet.

The gadget to the right of  the iPod is called the Cinemin Swivel Multimedia Pico Projector.  At $305, it’s pricey, but I put it next to the iPod because you use it with your iPod to project movies onto walls.  My middle daughter got it recently for Christmas, and she has been using it non-stop.  It’s a cool gadget, but expensive.

10) Nintendo DS ($149.99).  My girls had earned a DS a few years ago by completing a complete workbook during the summer (bribery works!).  Their little brother got one for his 4th birthday and our neighbor’s son, two years over, came running over after perusing our recycling bin saying, “he can’t have a DS yet; he’s too young!”  Be it as it may, my son does know how the use his DS.  My mom friend said her son loves the video feature in the new models. 

While my kids all like their DS and play on them frequently, they are not addicted to them.  They are much more addicted to TV.  I bought a few educational games like Spanish and a vocabulary game and just last night, my oldest was saying how much fun the Spanish game is.  Go figure!  We do have piles of DS games that they don’t seem to use anymore.  I hear that I can sell them or trade them in somewhere.  Here’s the link for that:

http://www.ehow.com/how_2015382_trade-old-nintendo.html

11) Mini Kick Scooter.  My sister in California gets the cool stuff.  She raves about this.  Similar to the Razor scooter but requires more balancing.  Goes about as fast as a Razor Scooter.  $80.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.