History, Holidays

Happy Memorial Day

For many of us, Memorial Day is nothing more than an extra day off from work, a time for barbecues and a signal that summer is almost here. But this day provides a wonderful opportunity to talk with your children about the meaning behind Memorial Day.

Memorial Day has its roots in Decoration Day, when southerners would decorate the graves of the Civil War dead with flags, wreaths and flowers. General Logan declared the first Decoration Day, which was held May 30, 1968. On that day, General Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetery, and then 5,000 people decorated more than 20,000 union and confederate graves.

For age-appropriate resources for talking with your children, try:

Memorial Day also reminds us to support our men and women in uniform every day of the year. Children can practice gratitude and letter-writing by making cards and writing letters to troops. You can send them through organizations like A Million Thanks.

How do you talk to your children about Memorial Day?

Books, Holidays

Children’s Books: Perfect for Any Occasion

Children’s Book Week Poster by David Wiesner

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Mother’s Day is around the corner. It’s Children’s Book week. What do all these holidays have in common? How about books, the perfect gift for just about any occasion? (I should note that the other all-purpose gift is chocolate.)

First, the fabulous graphic designer Carter Higgins put together this beautiful testament to moms and reading together just in time for Mother’s Day. This video will make you cry, so grab a kleenex. Wouldn’t a beautiful basket of books, perfect for snuggling or reading together, make a beautiful Mother’s Day gift? Or perhaps the busy mom needs a few paperbacks and some quiet time to read alone (with chocolate, or course).

As for teachers, I recently was reminded of the power of books when Finley’s Mommy and Me teacher broke down over Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. I knew in that instant I would find her a couple of perfect picture books for her Teacher Appreciation gift. If you are looking for a great list, look no further than author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Finally, it’s Children’s Book Week, a literacy event established almost 100 years ago. Check out the site for author and illustrator events around the country. The celebration runs until May 13th.

With all this book mania, I’m curious, do you have a favorite book to give as a gift? What books are on your wishlist?

Holidays, Science/Math

What’s Special About Space Day?

View from the International Space Station
Photo courtesy of NASA

Tomorrow, May 4th, is Space Day, a made-up holiday of sorts brought to you by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. Whether Space Day is real or manufactured, it does provide a wonderful opportunity to talk about what’s exciting about space these days.

First, the bad news: the Space Shuttle program ended last year. Now the good news: that delivery of Space Shuttles to museums across the country has begun. In mid April, the Space Shuttle Discovery arrived at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. The museum will host a special Space Day Family Day on Saturday, May 5 featuring astronauts, LEGO builds, tours and more. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Meanwhile the Space Shuttle Enterprise landed in Manhattan just a few short days ago and will be on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in June. Endeavour and Atlantis will make their way to their new homes later this year. (Let me just pause and say, “Woo hoo,” the California Science Center is getting Endeavour! Atlantis will be on display in Florida.)

More good news: even though NASA retired the Space Shuttle, people still live and work in space. Six astronauts currently live aboard the International Space Station, where they conduct scientific experiments. They ride back and forth to the Station aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which is more reminiscent of the Apollo rocket/capsule combo than an airplane. Most recently, a human-like robot, called Robonaut 2, arrived in space, ready to work side-by-side with astronauts there. It has such dexterity it can hold and use tools, just like the astronauts. Learn more about Robonaut here.

The best news (according to my five-year-old):  the Mini-Cooper-sized Mars Rover, called Curiosity, is scheduled to land on the Red Planet on August 5th PDT (that’s August 6th for you East Coasters). As a refresher, Curiosity is a new and improved version of the famed Spirit and Opportunity twin rovers with one mission: to look for places life might have existed on Mars. Long-time followers of this blog may recall my elder son’s obsession with Curiosity: his Curiosity Halloween costume, Curiosity Christmas ornaments, our trip the Mars Yard at JPL. Well, landing is imminent, less than 100 days away.

Honestly, it’s hard to sum up what’s exciting about space, since amazing new discoveries happen daily. We find new moons in our solar system, more planets in our galaxy, black holes munching on stars and more beyond. What excites you about space?

Arts/Crafts, Books, Holidays

WOW MOM: Mother’s Day Card Symmetry

Mom, if you are reading this blog post, please STOP. Right now. Delete this email immediately. Close your Web browser. Walk away.

Is she gone?

Ok, I’m going to let you in on a little secret — our homemade Mother’s Day cards. This year’s design comes from Loreen Leedy, author of the captivating math-based picture book, Seeing Symmetry. Loreen has a host of symmetry-related activities on her TeachersPayTeachers site, including the template for this WOWMOM card ($3) (Note: Her TeachersPayTeachers site has a free activity pack for the book Seeing Symmetry.)

Cooper asked me about symmetry just the other day. I’m not sure where he’d heard about it. Because he’d asked about the concept, making this card was a perfect opportunity to learn about the topic. While Cooper was decorating (with glitter glue, of course), I pulled some of Finley’s construction paper letters off the wall where they hang, so we could talk about which ones had symmetry.

Does Cooper understand symmetry now? Nope. I think that’s a fourth-grade math standard. But our glitter glue WOWMOM cards are sure to wow the moms in our lives. What do you have planned for Mother’s Day?

Arts/Crafts, Holidays

Easter Egg Color Mixing

This year I decided against buying the usual box of egg-dye pellets. Normally the box has at least 8 colors and mixing all of them is quite a project, especially with little ones. Instead, I decided to turn egg dying into a color mixing activity, allowing the kids to learn about primary vs. secondary colors.

Here’s the recipe I used for the dye: 1 tsp. white vinegar, 1/4 tsp. food coloring and 1 cup of hot water. I only prepared the 3 primary colors: red, yellow and blue. I mixed the dyes in disposable cups placed on top of cookie sheets. Yes, I was anticipating some spills. We explained that the boys would have to dip in yellow first, then blue to make green, for example. My dad found some wire in the garage and made egg dippers, which made the activity go a bit more smoothly.

We even got in some counting practice as we waited for the eggs to adopt their vibrant hues. Here are some pictures of the boys and “Grandmommy” dying eggs.

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Books, Holidays, Just for fun

Almost April Fool

April Fools’ Day came early to our house this year with a visit from Punxsutawney Phyllis. Phyllis, as you may recall, was on her world tour to promote her newest book, April Fool, Phyllis! Now the real April Fools’ Day (Sunday) has snuck up on me.

This year the boys are old enough to understand practical jokes and the  purpose of the day. They love telling jokes and think just about anything is funny. It got me thinking, what sort of pranks could I play on them to celebrate the day? So, without further ado, here are a few ideas I’ve come up with thus far.

  • Make a fake pillow mommy under the covers and wait for the unsuspecting boys to rush in and announce, “Time to wake up!”
  • Dye their milk green and tell them it came from a green cow. (FamilyFun had a similar idea.)
  • Declare it backwards day and let them wear their clothes backwards.
  • Give them an apple…with a gummy worm climbing out of it.
  • In the spirit of the Punxsutawney clan, create my own treasure hunt. I have to think carefully about the prize though. No maple candies for us with Easter and all that Easter candy right around the corner.

Do you have a favorite April Fools’ Day prank? I’d love to hear your ideas for injecting some fun into the day.

Arts/Crafts, Holidays

St. Paddy’s Day Potato Stamps

First, a big thank you to Clar Bowman-Jahn who recently awarded me the Sunshine and Kreatif blogger awards. Clar, you added sunshine to my day! Please check out her blog….here.

Potatoes and St. Patrick’s Day go together like peanut butter and jelly. What better way to craft some St. Patrick’s Day fun than with potato stamps?

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 or more potatoes
  • heart-shaped cookie cutter(s)
  • knife
  • green tempura paint
  • white paper, one for each child
  • newspaper
  • paper plate(s)
  • wipes for cleaning up

Here’s what you do:

  • Prepare your stamps: Slice each potato in half. Press the cookie cutter into the cut end of the potato. Using your knife, cut off the portion of the potato around your heart by at least 1/4 inch.
  • Cover your workspace in newspaper (note: doing this outside or at the park is a great choice for easy cleanup.)
  • Pour the green paint onto a disposable paper plate.
  • Give the children sheets of white paper and show them how to make a three or four-leaf clover by stamping the potato and using their fingers to paint the stem.
  • Clean up is easy: Throw the newspaper, stamps and plates in the trash. Use wipes to wipe off hands until you can get everyone to the sink for a good washing.
  • I decided to laminate our artwork after it dried to make St. Patrick’s Day place mats. You also can cover them in clear contact paper to achieve the same effect.
Potato stamps are easy to make and are great for any occasion. My aunt had lots of brown paper at Christmas time. She and her grandchildren decorated it with potato stamps to make special wrapping paper.

Now, here are a few things you should know about St. Patrick’s Day.

  • St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, wasn’t even Irish. He was born in Wales.
  • St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to teach people about the Holy Trinity, with each leaf representing one aspect of God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • There’s a legend that St. Patrick drove all the snakes in Ireland down to the seashore where they drowned.
  • People believe St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 AD, which is why we celebrate that day as St. Patrick’s Day.
Books, Holidays, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

April Fool, Phyllis!

Phyllis in front of an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter plane
Phyllis in front of an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter plane

As avid readers of Punxsutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill recall, Phyllis predicted an early spring. Bored from all that hibernation, Phyllis decided to take a little trip this year in anticipation of April Fool’s Day, the subject of her newest book.

I am flattered to say that our family was selected as the first stop on Punxsutawney Phyllis’s World Tour to promote  April Fool, Phyllis! We are big fans of her original Groundhog Day story, and her April Fool follow-up continued to delight.

During her less-than-24-hour stop in Southern California, Phyllis received multiple readings. Cooper and Finley read the book for bedtime Thursday night. On Friday, Ms. Dina’s class at Palmdale United Methodist Preschool read the story. The class also helped Phyllis find her way to the sugarhouse using the maze from Susanna Leonard Hill’s site. We also shared the book with some of other friends in the area.

We made sure to snap a few photos of Phyllis alongside some of our more recognizable landmarks: Joshua trees and super fast airplanes. (Important note: Our area is the birthplace of the Space Shuttle and the spot where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time. Planes that have flown higher, faster and further are all developed, built and tested here.) Phyllis really enjoyed the trip to the Joe Davies Heritage Air Park where she saw all kind of stealthy aircraft including the SR-71 Blackbird, U-S Dragon Lady, and F-117 Nighthawk. Rumor has it she might have taken the Nighthawk for a spin.

Phyllis loved the Joshua trees.

And now, for a review of the book (drum roll, please!):

Author: Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrator: Jeffrey Ebbeler
Publication Info: Holiday House, 2011
Intended audience: Everyone!
Genre: picture book (32 pages)
Themes/topics: April Fools Day, nature, weather, groundhogs
Opening and synopsis: ”Phyllis knew everything about the weather. After all, she was Punxsutawney Phyllis, Weather Prophet Extraordinaire! So, when she woke up on April first, the day of the Spring Treasure Hunt, it took only one whiff of the morning air to tell her something wasn’t right.”
All the signs point to a blustery blizzard for April Fools Day. No one believes Phyllis’s prediction that a storm is on its way. When the snow hits during the annual Spring Treasure Hunt, will Phyllis be able to save her cousins?
Why I like this book: Honestly, there aren’t that many April Fools Day books on the market, and with small children at home, I like to celebrate each new holiday and season with a themed book. Beyond its theme, there are several elements to recommend this book. First, its discussion of weather and natural cycles can inspire lessons about how to predict weather, signs of spring and winter and the like. Second, children actually participate in the Spring Treasure Hunt along with Phyllis and her cousins. My three and five-year-old love puzzles and mysteries, and they enjoyed shouting out their guesses to each new clue. Finally, Hill includes a historical note in the back of the book detailing the origins of April Fools Day. As with the best children’s books, I learned something new. I had no idea that April 1st originally was considered New Year’s Day under the Julian calendar. When the Gregorian calendar took root beginning in 1582, New Year’s Day became January 1st. Those who continued to celebrate April 1st as the first day of the new year were considered the original fools.
Resources: Hill includes classroom guides for kindergarten, first and second grade on her Web site. This guides align with many state standards for several subjects. Just for fun, Hill also has a Phyllis paper doll dress up page and a maze worksheet.
And now, we must say “bon voyage” to Phyllis and send her on her way. Next stop….Texas!

Books, Holidays, Reading

Read Across America 2012

Tomorrow, March 2nd, is Read Across America Day, which just so happens to coincide with the birthday of beloved children’s author, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel). I know my five-year-old and millions of other children will host guest readers, read Dr. Seuss books, eat some green eggs and ham and make a Seuss-tacular, Cat-in-the-Hat hat.

Why is Dr. Seuss the perfect Read Across America author? As I read more and more picture books, I’ve come to appreciate Dr. Seuss’s magic. He combined simple language with complex, imaginative ideas. For example, Green Eggs and Ham relies upon only 50 different words. All of them, except one (anywhere), are single-syllable words. It’s a simple story for budding readers, but the story is not limited by Seuss’s limited vocabulary.

On the same note, Hop on Pop uses lots of single-syllable words with short vowel sounds, making it another good choice for encouraging new readers. In my household’s opinion, Seuss’s books are far more interesting than Bob Books and other texts aimed at preschoolers and kindergarteners. (No offense to Bob Books, which work for so many kids.)

If you are looking for Dr. Seuss activities, look no further:

  • Scholastic has a complete author study with biography and ideas for activities to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The latter includes bookmaking, making Cat in the Hat hats and graphing how many students like green eggs and ham.
  • Apples4theTeacher has an entire page dedicated to Dr. Suess’s birthday with lots of printables and activities.
  • TeachKidsArt had this fun Seuss art activity. Grab your paint and googly eyes and get going.
  • Seussville.com is chock full of ideas.

Happy Read Across America Day!

Arts/Crafts, Holidays

Valentine’s Day Cards

Nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day” like some homemade love. The boys and I spent about an hour making Valentine’s Day cards for their various parties next week. Our key ingredients: red card stock, some paint we had on-hand, and old Valentine’s Day cookie cutters. Oh, and a hefty dose of glitter.