Our Favorite Bedtime Story Books

The most trying part of the entire day for a parent to young kids has to be bedtime. When my kids were toddlers, well-wishers kept telling me how important it was to establish a proper, set bedtime routine for them. I tried everything I could think of, but there were times when nothing seemed to work. My husband used to joke that our kids were ‘allergic’ to bedtime; they would do anything just to delay getting tucked into bed. And one fine day, I just gave up trying to do multiple things and switched to the tried-and-tested way (which, I admit, seemed the easiest way out) – plopping down on the bed with a story book in hand. And miraculously, it worked. The kids would follow suit and that was that. If only I had known it could be this simple from the beginning!

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Bed” by OpenClipart-Vectors is licensed under CC by 2.0

The kids aren’t toddlers any more, but our bedtime story reading routine continues. We snuggle together every night with whichever book they decide to pick out; sometimes they read out loud, sometimes I do. Needless to say, this has to be the best and most peaceful part of the entire day – the laundry (clean & dirty) all segregated and in its place for the following morning, mobile phones and other devices with their ever-running virtual games and cartoon videos put away in the desk drawer, the breakfast menu decided and vegetables chopped up and ready – in short, the chores of the day all taken care of.

Here are our favorites from the long, never-ending list of bedtime stories we’ve read time and again.

Looking for Sleepy (by Maribeth Boelts)

A cute little story about a Papa Bear, a Little Bear and their bedtime. Little Bear, of course, doesn’t want to go to bed. Papa Bear must go through their bedtime routine and find the elusive ‘Sleepy’ in order to help Little Bear fall asleep. My younger one was initially in the habit of falling asleep while holding either mommy or daddy’s hand. (Sigh. I do miss those times.) Well, Little Bear likes that too!  Heartwarming illustrations make it an ideal bedtime read for toddlers.

The Elves and the Shoemaker (Grimm’s Fairy Tales)

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Image courtesy: The Illustrators Agency

‘Once upon a time there was a kind shoemaker who was very poor…’ So the story begins. He has enough leather only to make a single pair of shoes; but, as if by magic, every morning he finds shiny and brand new pairs of shoes ready on his worktable. Eventually they find out it’s the handiwork of two dancing and skipping elves. The shoemaker’s wife stitches them tiny new outfits in return, which they love. A wonderful tale of helping hands and the little joys gifts can bring. A fairy tale that reminds me of my own childhood (watch this video for that tinge of nostalgia).

Bedtime for Mommy (by Amy Krouse Rosenthal)

My personal, all-time favorite since the moment I set my eyes on it. So it’s all about bedtime but with a twist – the daughter is putting her mommy to bed, instead of the usual other way around! The weary little girl helps her mom get ready for bed – a warm bath, freshly laundered clothes neatly laid out for the next day, even a bedtime story read out. The hilarious role reversal of sorts has the mom doing everything she can to stall bedtime – this part especially elicits guffaws from my kids (guilty conscience!). An out and out fun tale.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears (by James Marshall)

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Image courtesy: ThingLink

A naughty little girl who gets into trouble is what Goldilocks and the Three Bears is all about. The fascinating house of the three bears, Goldilocks slurping as well as spilling her porridge all over the floor and the three bears coming back to find their house in a mess – the story comes out to the kids in vivid detail through the well-drawn illustrations which add humor to the tale. Some fairy tales are meant to be handed down from generation to generation and are never forgotten; Goldilocks is one such gem of a story.

As the saying goes:

It’s very important to always read a bedtime story… Else, how would your dreams know where to begin?

How to Go Crafty this Thanksgiving

I like to call ours a crafty family of sorts. I won’t say we’re particularly good at it, but we try getting all messy and coming up with handmade crafts and painted stuff to put around the rooms whenever we get the chance. What with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it won’t be very difficult dragging the kids away from their favorite cartoon shows and dragon games in order to do up the house or bake some goodies for the occasion. Since the past few days, I have been on the lookout for fun crafts the kids could enjoy their hands at during the holidays. Here are a couple of ideas I came across which seem ideal for the festive season.

Hand-print Turkey Leaf Mats

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Image courtesy: Parenting

As a kid, I remember drawing the outlines of our hands on a large piece of cardboard, filling in color with crayons and marking an eye and a beak on the thumb part of the drawing to make a turkey which could be hung anywhere around the house. Don’t they say ‘old is gold’? This one is a tried-and-tested idea which can never go wrong. Let’s tweak it a little to make it more exciting. Ask your child to carry out the above procedure and then cut out the ‘turkey’, leaving around 2 inches empty space all along the borders. Now, use some big leaves pressed and preserved between the pages of a book to glue them around the edges of your turkey, just leaving the thumb part (where the head is supposed to be) to denote the feathers. If you don’t have preserved leaves, pluck some today and store them away in an old notebook – Thanksgiving is still a couple of days away!

This way, you can get ready some bright and colorful Turkey table mats for the much-awaited Thanksgiving feast.

Edible Fruit Turkey

Cut out a piece of cardboard the size of a bookmark and make two corners on one side of it curved around the edges using a pair of scissors. Stick on or draw eyes and a beak at the curved edges end.  Now take an apple or a pumpkin and cut about half an inch from the bottom. Now place the cut part upside down as a stand and prop the fruit on top of it. Add about 6-8 toothpicks (depending on the size of the fruit) at the back of it like the hands of a clock from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. Add another toothpick at the front to pierce in the cardboard face. Add orange slices on each of the toothpicks in the clock positions and, lo and behold, you have a perfectly healthy, edible turkey sitting expectantly on your dining table!

Here are some more food craft ideas which are pretty easy to whip up.

Hand-painted Pine Cones

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Pine Cones” by bergblau is licensed under CC by 2.0

Young kids love nothing better than getting paint all over their fingers and toes, hair and clothes. My rule at home is: Get yourself as dirty as you want to, provided you do it outside the house. Hand painting pine cones is something which falls precisely in that category of activities which are allowed only outdoors. This can be done with both closed as well as open pine cones. As a first step, use an old toothbrush with hard bristles to remove any dust or dirt settled on the surface of the cones. Hand your kids an angled paint brush each and let them choose their favorite shade of acrylic color to paint the pine-cones. The cones that are slightly open would look better on your mantelpiece if only the tips of their scales are colored a particular shade. This is something which can stay on as a decorative accessory for many, many years to come.

If you can lay your hands on some pine cones, well and good; however, if there aren’t any pine cones in your area, most of the art and craft stores do sell them.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Kids will be Kids!

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Image courtesy: Glasbergen

The other day I was reading about some of the funniest statements kids have made to their parents and teachers and a couple really cracked me up; I just had to share them here. Read on…

  • “My 2-and-a-half-year-old set up a wall of toys around her in the kitchen and was lying down amongst them. Her stuffed giraffe kept falling on her face-first, and I just heard her saying: ‘I’m not food, giraffe, I’m not food. I’m not food!”
  • “When my child came home from school on the bus, I paused the work conference call I was on to ask her how her day was. She responded: ‘Shhh go back to work. I have a list of things I want you to buy me with the money you’re making.’ She’s five.”
  • “My twin sons came running to me in a panic… and one says: ‘Ma! I CANNOT SEE MY EYES!’”
  • “My 3-year-old came inside and announced: ‘I peed outside.’ My husband asked if his underwear was wet and my son proudly replied: ‘Nope, I peed on Luna. It was like a shower for her.’ Luna is our Saint Bernard.”
  • “One day my daughter leaned in and said to me: ‘Don’t worry mommy, I love you and would never kill you.’”
  • “I used to teach preschoolers. One day I was sitting on the floor with a 3-year-old squatting next to me. She’s talking and talking and suddenly she just falls over. She gets up, looks at me, and says: ‘That wasn’t supposed to happen.’”
  • “I’m a preschool teacher and the other day a little girl was standing next to me and stroking my eyebrow with her finger. When I asked what she was doing she said: ‘I’m your eyebrow petter.’”

I love them! :D

This is the way we brush our teeth…

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Bedtime” by ArtsyBee is licensed under CC by 2.0

It is an unwritten rule at home that the kids need to brush their teeth before turning in for the night. Now they have got used to it and don’t create a fuss of it. But back when they were younger, I remember resorting to various ways in order to get them in the habit.

Here are a couple of ideas which might come in useful if you’re facing the same predicament.

  • You could make it a bedtime routine by standing side-by-side in front of the bathroom mirror together and asking your child to mimic you as you yourself brush your teeth. Let this be an everyday ritual before bedtime.
  • Let brushing teeth signify something they look forward to; for instance, in my case it was story time. I made it clear that bedtime stories would only be read out on the pre-condition that they brush their teeth before coming into bed.
  • For younger kids, a good idea would be to allow them to choose their favorite color/design of toothbrush (and change it every 45 days or so). What toothbrush to buy can be their choice, and they can feel more grown-up this way.
  • Print out a fun quote in big letters and put it up alongside their toothbrush stand in the bathroom. We have one saying: ‘Even superheroes must brush their teeth’ up on our bathroom wall with Batman on it.

Happy brushing!

Why Homeschooling Works for Our Family

There was a time when I felt I was a part of the minority, having chosen not to send my kids to a traditional school to learn. But recently, I read this article containing research facts on homeschooling which claims that ‘Home education – an age old traditional education practice that a decade ago appeared to be cutting-edge and alternative is now bordering on mainstream in the United States’.

I’ve been asked by many parent friends on different occasions why I chose to homeschool (or unschool, as I like to put it at times) both my kids from such a young age. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that they need to learn something in a particular subject, just in order to pass a test. I was of the view that I would like my children to take learning as something they love doing, at their own pace.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with the thought of my kids sitting down with their homework at a designated time each day, willingly or unwillingly poring over their books. I wanted to be able to gauge my kids’ interests and capabilities, and thereby design their own curriculum as I wished to. Learning shouldn’t be all about books and homework; it should be about learning naturally – be it taking a walk in the farm, planting flowers or learning how dough rises by getting your hands messy.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with the prospect of one single school curriculum catering to varying kids of a particular age. Some kids are good at math, some are exceptional in painting. Would it be right to judge both of them on a single common scale of math, or painting? No. With homeschooling, I could get the independence of individualizing each of my kids’ learning.

Homeschooling is a choice we’ve made for our family and till date, we’re very happy and satisfied with our decision. I admit there was a time right at the very beginning when I had this sudden doubt over my capabilities: Would I be able to do justice to this role of being a mom and a teacher? Would my kids turn out to be successful and at par or even better than those children who attend public schools? Wouldn’t their social skills suffer if they didn’t go out and mingle all day with other kids their age?

Today, it’s been over five years since we embarked upon this journey. And I can proudly say that all my fears and doubts have been happily laid to rest.

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Child” by picjumbo is licensed under CC by 2.0

At our place, four days a week are dedicated to planned lessons as in relatively scheduled learning activities and the remaining three days we are free to do our own thing as a family. Mornings generally begin with a prayer to the Lord above, followed by a leisurely breakfast and then we sit ourselves down in our playroom (which is a study-cum-reading-cum-painting-cum-playroom). We usually start with the basics of Math; on certain days I begin by explaining a new concept followed by sums on the same. Each of my two kids has his and her own learning time. If I am explaining concepts of addition and subtraction to the little one, I’ll make sure the elder one is busy solving a math problem worksheet of the concepts explained the previous day, and vice versa. Math generally goes on for an hour or so and then we take a ‘power break’ as we like to call it, when we take turns reading a story book together out loud.

This story-reading activity is usually one of the best times of our day. The kids love it, I love it and I’ve noticed that they are at their chirpiest best while reading. I’ve noticed how my elder one is getting better at reading out sentences without halting in between; three months ago she would have to stop a couple of times in between a single simple sentence to figure out words but now there’s a world of a difference. The best part is she’s learning without realizing the fact that she’s doing so! My younger one is still busy trying to string out correct spellings of words and we play interactive reading games like these together which are simple yet fun. I’m positive it’ll eventually help him build up his vocabulary and help him get more excited about reading.

By now, it’s time for a light lunch. I usually make sure the kids give me a hand while I go about getting the meal ready. Be it tossing up a salad in a large bowl or setting the table, measuring the volume of water that would go into a spaghetti recipe or practicing basic multiplication by counting the rows of cookies which have come fresh out of the oven, they happily do all this and more.

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Little Girl Reading” by jill111 is licensed under CC by 2.0

The supervised instruction period ends with lunch. Post a short siesta, it’s nothing about studies per se any more. About twice a week we make it a point to visit the neighborhood local library which has a dedicated kids’ section and my daughter loves to pick out a book or two for bedtime reading (seeing her hooked onto Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series gives me unparalleled satisfaction; I was inseparable from the said author’s books for a major part of my childhood). Sometimes we spend time reading together in the library itself. The librarian is kind enough to allow my son to carry along his coloring book and crayons while daughter and mom quietly immerse themselves in their books. On the way home, we usually stop at a pond where my son loves to feed bread crumbs to the ducks and the daughter has managed to make friendly acquaintances with the gang of kids who play hide and seek in the evenings at the adjoining park. That is ‘me-time’ for me; I sit back, take in my surroundings and relax.

On Monday and Thursday afternoons, a neighborhood mom holds basic baking classes for children at her own place, which both my kids love to attend. My daughter behaves all grown-up when she proudly instructs me on how to better my baking skills at home! And just recently, my son baked a chocolate muffin ‘all by himself’ and was so thrilled that he didn’t take a bite of it and insisted all of us taste it time and again in order to tell him how magnificent it was!

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Coloring” by kaboompics is licensed under CC by 2.0

Sundays are meant for family church visits in the mornings, followed by a crafting club class for the kids, as a result of which the children’s room walls are all plastered with handprints and mountains and waterfalls and glitter and stars and stuff. In the evenings, we have family movie time at home where we all take turns to pick a movie of our choice each weekend. My son recently picked the How to Train Your Dragon film and was thrilled when he learnt that there are dragon games based on the movie too with his favorite characters in it (and I was thrilled because the dragon games had a scientific tilt to them – he was learning science while racing his dragons through mountains and valleys and had no clue!).

We parents have formed a close-knit homeschooling group too and meet once every fortnight, to share notes and have fun. It is pretty fascinating how one gets to learn so much from like-minded parents out there who are in the same boat trying to figure out the same things as you in their homeschooling journey. Makes one feel pretty confident that yes, one is on the right track and the kids are doing well.

I recently came across this quote from Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s mentor and friend; she couldn’t have made a more explicitly correct statement than this:

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less “showily”. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his expressions for himself… Teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”

Agreed, a little guidance along the way, a little push in the right direction is essential. Unschooling gives one the liberty to gauge one’s child’s interest and bent of mind, do away with a uniform pre-planned year-long curriculum and set the course for just the right mix of a more wholesome form of learning, replete with DIY science experiments that can be performed at home, craft activities that can be done together as a family, picnics to a nearby zoological park or farm to learn more about nature and lots more.

Would your child be able to enjoy and have the time of his life doing all that he loves and learn alongside, had he been a part of the traditional form of schooling? The answer would be a resounding NO. As Albert Einstein very rightly put it: “I never teach my pupils. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

Through my homeschooling efforts, I try to do the same. And the sense of contentment I get as a mom and a teacher when I see them blossom on a daily basis in front of my eyes, cannot be explained in words.

3 Fun Sibling Activities to Help Them Bond

In my last post, I mentioned about April 10 being celebrated as National Siblings Day in many parts of the country. Well, guess what I just discovered – today, May 24, is celebrated as Brother’s Day in several parts of the world. Also, my search concluded that there’s yet another Brothers and Sisters Day which is supposed to be celebrated on May 2 every year! I guess these varied occasions just go on to show how special the bond between siblings can be – celebrations galore under different names :)

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Child” by Merio is licensed under CC by 2.0

Talking about brothers, I, unfortunately, was bestowed with none. However, my daughter has been the luckier one in this aspect (ask her though and she’ll vehemently tell you she always wanted a sister). There are times when the two are inseparable. Of course, there are times too when both of them refuse to acknowledge each other’s presence, as if there were decades of enmity between the two of them. And yet, the bond between the two siblings is something special; somewhat similar to the bond me and my sister share with each other since childhood.

Here are three fun ways older and younger siblings can play, learn and bond together.

Build an indoor fort together

Me and my sister’s favorite pastime during the holiday season was to build up ‘elaborate’ forts indoors which served as a safe haven for us right through several days (read: till we got tired of sneaking in there day and night, day after day). Either mum would help us erect a simple fort in the hallway with old bed sheets, string and clothespins, replete with twinkling fairy lights to light up its ‘majestic’ entrance along with a stock of cookies and chocolate milk inside, or if we were very lazy and mum was busy with work, we would sneak in underneath our dining table after covering it with a huge tablecloth which fell to the floor on all sides and had our evening tea parties there. I remember once dad got a brainwave and pitched us a temporary blanket tent over our beds – we were thrilled to pieces each time we crawled in to read a book and then eventually fell asleep – it was our own little castle! For some creative ideas on how to go about it, read more here.

Play board games and video games together

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Board” by Skitterphoto is licensed under CC by 2.0

Depending on what age the siblings are, one can get hold of some board games which the two can play together. For instance, there is Chutes and Ladders for young kids, in which they can have fun going up as well as down the ladders, then there’s Sorry as well as Battleship for slightly older kids. Or else, you could perhaps introduce them to video games like the popular Lego Star Wars where they get to construct bridges and spaceships from the building blocks, or even pet games like these where they need to care for a virtual pet, making sure it has had its fill and taking it on adventures online. The idea behind getting them to play something here is to let them settle down for a while and indulge in the same activity together. Apart from spending enjoyable time together, they get to learn about teamwork and foster the ability to focus too – a win-win situation all along.

Learn an activity together

Arrange for kids to, say, attend a class somewhere in the neighborhood where they can learn an activity together, even if it’s on weekends. It could be a music class where they can opt to learn how to play musical instruments of their choice (my son is presently enrolled in a drums class and the daughter is thinking of joining either piano or guitar classes). It could also be a singing class if they are interested in honing their vocal skills or a dance class where they can just let loose and have fun. Spending some time together away from the home environment will do the siblings good, helping them bond on a different level altogether.

I would love to hear about other new ideas involving siblings too.

3 Reading Games for the Elementary Classroom

I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like to play, so it makes sense to use games as learning tools in the classroom. That’s what I did back in those years when I wanted my first graders to learn and polish their reading skills; I introduced some fun and interactive reading games that helped motivate them to become better readers. These games can be used along with online reading games for a balanced reading experience. Feel free to check them out!

9610012698_84910f7432_z-1SAD_Amidon 70” by US Department of Education, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Guess the Word

Skills taught – Word recognition and sequencing

How to Play

  • Identify a “secret” word from a random chapter or story.
  • Write that word on a piece of paper.
  • Give your students a hint of the word’s location in the book; for instance, you can say “The word is on page 79.”
  • Let the students take turns asking you yes-no questions to help them arrive at the correct answer. For instance they might ask “Is the word on the top half or the bottom half of the page?” Or, “Does it come before the word “careless”?
  • The student who zeroes in on the correct word wins the round.
  • Continue playing the game for as many rounds as you want to. Once the students have mastered the rules, they can play the game in small groups.

The Reading Wagon

A reading wagon is a good investment for your classroom. Acquire a wagon or use any pull vehicle and invite your students to decorate it. Then encourage them to fill it up with their favorite books. Even better, have everyone collect books that fit into a theme they are studying in class and place them all in the wagon. When it’s time to do independent reading, choose a student to pull the wagon around and deliver books to her fellow readers. Each time the wagon stops, students can choose a book and read it. The wagon can go around again when reading time is over and collect all the books.

Spell It

Skills – Spelling and vocabulary

How to Play

  • This variation on the classic Spelling Bee is loads of fun to play in the classroom. First, invite the students to form a circle.
  • Give them a word to spell. The first student says the first letter, the second student says the second letter and the round continues until the word has been spelled.
  • A student who provides the wrong letter must sit down.
  • When the word is completed, the next student says “Done!” and the student next to him must sit down.
  • The game continues until only one student is left standing.

Elementary students would hopefully enjoy playing these games and become better readers as a result. What do you think?