Having Fun with the Summer Slide (Part I)

‘A term that suggests a playful amusement park attraction but actually describes a grim reality. The phenomenon was studied extensively by Johns Hopkins University researchers… [in 2007 and their] longitudinal study tracked Baltimore students from 1st grade through age 22… The researchers concluded that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by [lack of] access to summer learning opportunities during elementary school.’

This is how the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) defines ‘summer slide’, the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year.

Though we are a homeschooling family and learn all year round without the concept of any particularly long vacation of sorts, things do tend to get a bit different come summers. We go a bit slower than usual from the drawn-up curriculum, spending our time more on other ‘non-studying’ activities than classes, worksheets and ‘homework’ (yes, my kids still get homework from their homeschooling mom-cum-teacher, which they have to submit for correction the following day). Hence, homeschoolers like us also experience a summer slide, albeit perhaps a milder version as compared to those who attend school regularly.

I’ve decided to do a series of posts that talk about how we can keep our kids gainfully occupied this summer. Some of the ideas are tried-and-tested, others I found interesting while I came across them sometime in the past, which seemed suitable for the coming weeks. These can work for all kids – schooled, unschooled, homeschooled and the rest. Read on, and please feel free to add or subtract or suggest your own ideas.

On Your Mark, Get Set… Read!

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Kids” by henriquesaf is licensed under CC by 2.0

For kids who love reading (like mine), this one is simple. For parents of kids who don’t, this one will need a patient approach to get them into the habit. Try reading games like these which are interactive and helpful for beginners. If your little ones are old enough to read but simply not interested in curling up on the couch with a book, try something more fun. Join a neighborhood library. Ours organizes read-aloud story sessions for young kids. What’s more, kids do spend more time than usual with books if they have a whole shelf of them to choose from. Or else, read in places along with your child where you wouldn’t generally. Like the beach, or the park, or on a picnic. Make it all about the picnic (say) rather than the act of reading. Another exciting alternative is to read story books which have been made into cartoons or films. I remember reading The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Elves and The Shoemaker with mother back as a child and then following it up watching its video on the television. Reading time should be equivalent to family time.

Summer Camps… Where Strangers Become Friends

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Holiday” by lentemamaatje is licensed under CC by 2.0

“Summers are a particularly good opportunity to take into account our children’s interests and likes. Building activities around what our children enjoy or want to explore is essential to creating positive summer learning experiences,” says Mr. Boulay from the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA).

I’ve never been to summer camp myself but my husband has and vouches for their worth. Camps could be about anything your kids are interested in – skating, swimming, reading, photography, dance, baking, art… the possibilities are endless. In one word, a summer camp is akin to action; kids will be physically active, meeting new people, forming bonds and friendships, getting to know how to work as a team. There’s always something going on at a camp; even sitting around laughing and being silly all day long with your peer group is a learning experience for young minds. Read more here about how camps are a good idea both for your kids as well as for you.

No interesting summer camps in the immediate neighborhood? Not a problem. Discuss with your neighborhood parents and take the kids out on a day trip every weekend. It could be a zoo, an amusement park or just a giant playground where they can run around and play catch. A carefree day well-spent with like-minded kids of their own age will do them a world of good.

After all, aren’t summers all about going crazy and making the best memories possible together, slide and all?

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Easter Month Family Fun

Fluffy Easter bunnies, colorful chocolate Easter eggs, hot cross buns, overflowing candy baskets – my kids relate all these with Easter. They know for a fact that it is a Christian religious holiday but are naturally oblivious to the concept of Resurrection Sunday and the history associated with it. Also, at our place, the Easter festival doesn’t just mean a single Easter Sunday; it’s about an entire week or more of fun and festivities, goodies and cheer at home. Here’s what all we did together as a family this Easter month.

We attended church together.

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Communion Candles” by Antranias is licensed under CC by 2.0

Frankly speaking, ours is a family that doesn’t attend church on a regular basis. Every now and then we do try to make a visit, otherwise we believe that God resides in each one of us and hence just remember the Almighty in our bedtime prayers, thanking Him for all that He has bestowed upon us. This Easter, my husband and I decided that we would enroll our children for the Sunday school classes going on in the neighborhood church in the weeks preceding Easter. The kids enjoyed the one hour they spent at church every Sunday and would come back with all sorts of stories that talked about the significance of Easter. Also, all four of us attended the service at sunrise on Easter Sunday. The candles, the readings, the Easter hymns – all this made for a peaceful, pleasant start to the day.

We played Easter games together.

A couple of kids from the neighborhood came over to our place in the evening and we set up some fun games for them. One was that each child had to draw a colorful Easter bunny and then everyone voted for whichever bunny they thought was the best. Then of course there was the egg and spoon racing game in our backyard. We had a gala time. Once the kids left for their respective homes, my two little ones caught their breath by reclining on their bean bags and playing virtual games on the tablet which involved collecting gaming Easter eggs and the like, all the while nibbling on some homemade chocolate eggs I had made for the occasion.

We watched family movies together.

Winnie the Pooh – Springtime with Roo and the live action animation flick Hop were the two movies we watched back to back. While the former talked about springtime, spring cleaning and Easter bunnies, the latter was all about candy-coated worlds, drumming and Hollywood. And of course, it was accompanied with caramel popcorn and celebration brownies fresh from the oven.

The coloring of eggs, the warm sunshine,

The treasure hunts, the parties & the fun to dine,

The Bunny, the cakes and the fragrant air,

Tells us, ho! Easter is here.

Till next year, adios to this festival of springtime and cheer.

Filling up with the Christmas Spirit through Holiday Movies

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I have to start this off with a warning – this is a hastily put together list that was brought to mind while having hot chocolate and chatting with a childhood friend about how we spend used to spend Christmas mornings – bowl full of cereal, pajamas and blankets, cartoons and rib-tickling Christmas themed movies.

Rather than over-thinking this, I thought I’d put together the movies that bring back memories of that time and some newer memories created with my hubbie and kids.

Home Alone 2 –

I know this is a controversial choice because of how good the first movie was but Home Alone 2 feels more Christmasy – the messaging, the grandness of the holiday cheer in New York, the adorable characters – it just makes you feel warm inside.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas –

The newer Jim Carrey version is a family favorite because of the way the Seuss story is expanded and every character is dealt with in a deeper way. Some people consider this an abomination to the original Dr. Seuss but I don’t mind it. However, my favorite is the old cartoon version that only ran to a few minutes.

Arthur Christmas

This is a relatively new movie but it really puts a smile on my face with its refreshing plot – it’s not the same old storyline that is rehashed every Christmas season. It is a nail biting adventure about Santa’s son, Arthur, trying to save Christmas day by making sure a package is delivered on time. I also love the glimpse it gives of Santa’s high tech gift delivering operation. It is simply delightful.

Rise of the Guardians

I love superheroes and when all of your favorite holiday icons come together to save the world from certain doom, there’s a certain magic and thrill in it. I have really tried to pretend I don’t love this as much of the kids but I’ve really, really grown fond of this movie.

What’s on your list of must-watch Christmas classics?

Top 4 movies to look forward to this December

The last 2 months of 2014 seem to be really promising. The movies that are lined up to release in the U.S.A. this winter will have many of us queuing up at the movie halls! Here are a few movies that America is looking forward to towards the end of 2014!

Penguins of Madagascar

Here’s an adorable spy team heating up the sub-zero part of the world! The flightless four consisting of Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private are on their mission to save penguins the world over! As they are forced to collaborate with The North Wind, an undercover task force led by the handsome Agent Classified, the four penguins go undercover and do what they do best – plan to save the day. They must stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine, voiced by John Malkovich, from destroying the world as we know it. The first four minutes of the movie released by DreamWorks symbol a good time this Thanksgiving. We have a strong feeling that the penguins will entertain us as much as Alex and his troop from Madagascar did!

Touch the Wall

“Touch the Wall” follows the lives of two Olympic swimmers – Gold-Medalist Missy Franklin and Silver-Medalist Kara Lynn Joyce – and their journey to the 2012 London Olympics.  When the veteran Joyce joins teenager Franklin and her age-group swim club, everything changes. While Missy finds a hero and idol in Joyce, the veteran Joyce finds a new start to life and a training partner in Missy. They form a team and Joyce starts training Missy. Together they start winning tournaments and soon realize that they can make the world’s best winning combination. Thrown apart by coach and circumstances, they reunite at Olympic Trials only to win the prestigious medals and titles.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

Mockingjay is a 2010 science fiction novel by American author Suzanne Collins. It is the last installment of The Hunger Games, following 2008’s The Hunger Games and 2009’s Catching Fire. The book continues the story of Katniss Everdeen, who agrees to unify the districts of Panem in a rebellion against the tyrannical Capitol.

After Katnis (Jennifer Lawrence) is rescued from the devastating Qaurter Quell, she awakes in the complex beneath that was presumed to be destroyed long time ago called District 13. District 12 used to be her home which has also been reduced to rubble and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is now the brainwashed captive of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Learning about a secret rebellion rising in Panem, Katnis jumps back to life to defeat the evil Snow.

Imitation Game

This was Benedict Cumberbatch’s first release this year, prior to “Penguins of Madagascar” where he is lending voice. Though it released in August in the U.K., it’s left to see how it actually fares in the U.S.A. when it releases in November.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who cracks the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Though Alan exhibited his genius by cracking the German code as well as assisting with the development of computers at the University of Manchester, he was later prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts which the country deemed illegal. It will be interesting to see how the U.S.A. reacts to this biopic which received great reviews in the U.K.

Have a movie-filled November and December with a little dose of fun, sci-fi, motivation and thrill!

Fairy Tales Learning Games and Activities for Kids

All it takes to entertain a three-year-old is an illustrated book of fairy tales. But fairy tales are more than simple entertainment – they are learning opportunities to impart a variety of skills to their young audience – language, math, creativity, cultural awareness and even cooking! Here are some interesting learning games and activities based on some of the most beloved fairy tales of our times.

Hint – Remember to adapt them to the age and attention span of your child!

Three Bears Dinnerware

In the tale, Goldilocks enters the Three Bears home, eats off their china and sleeps in their beds. You can use this simple story to teach your child sorting and classification skills. Place dishes, glasses and silverware in three different sizes on the table and invite him to sort them by size – small, medium and large. He could also sort them by category or material used. This entertaining learning activity is suitable for four to six year olds.

Act it Out

This fun game puts the “act” in “act”ivity! Just create a variety of cards featuring popular fairy tale characters and invite the kids to perform an action. For instance, one card could say “You’re Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf is chasing you. Run as fast as you can!” Or, “You’re Karen and you’ve put the magical red shoes. At a word from the old soldier, you must dance.” Apart from building your child’s literacy skills and gross motor skills, this fun learning game also allows them to give free rein to their imagination.

Make Your own Fairy Tale

Place small objects and pictures in a bag and invite your child to make his own fairy tale, using the contents of the bag. For instance, he could start off with “Once upon a time, there was a gnome who loved to dance in the rain. One day (pulling out a picture of the sun) it was bright and sunny and the poor gnome couldn’t dance. So he (pulling out a toy car) went for a ride in his car instead.” The story goes on until he has incorporated all the objects into his story and brought it to a conclusion. Your little story teller is sure to enjoy this creative learning game!

Cook up a Tale

Here’s a great learning game to keep your child engaged on a rainy day! Read a fairy tale together and do a cooking project based upon the story. For instance,

  • Make porridge after reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • Make gingerbread cookies after reading The Gingerbread Man
  • Make apple pie or apple strudel after reading Snow White
  • Bake a cake after reading The Little Red Cap

As adults, we relive our childhoods by reading fairy tales to our kids. Now it’s time to make your child an active learner rather than a passive listener. If you have more ideas for turning fairy tales into learning games and activities, I’d love to hear them!

Hiccup and Toothless: The Book Versus the Movie

For those of you who know me, you know what a huge How to Train your Dragon fan I am. I love the movie and the books even more than my kids and for a while, I had to hide how into a “kids” movie I was. In order to expand my style of writing, I thought I’d start doing little review pieces about movies I love, their connections to books, character descriptions, things that stood out in my mind etc. Here’s the first of what will hopefully be a regular series! 

DreamWorks’ blockbusting animated movie ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is loosely based on the book of the same name by Cressida Cowell. Apart from a few of the main characters and basic elements of the story, there are numerous differences between the book and the movie. A mere look at the main characters Hiccup and Toothless in the book versus their portrayal in the movie reveals the extent to which the movie deviates from the story in the book.

Hiccup and Toothless as Individual Characters

The character and appearance of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III in the movie closely resembles his description in the novel. He is a scrawny Viking from the Hairy Hooligans tribe, unusual because of his physical appearance as well as his intelligence. He is commonly teased and looked down upon by the other Vikings, just as in the beginning of the first movie. However, he owns two dragons, one named Toothless and the other Windwalker.

Toothless the dragon is drastically different in the book and the movie. While the film portrays him as a huge black Night Fury, the rarest and the most intelligent of the dragon species, in the book he is a tiny green and red dragon, believed to be a Common or Garden Dragon. Later on, he is found to be a young Seadragonus Giganticus Maximus. As his name suggests, he does not have teeth.

The Relationship Between Hiccup and Toothless

In the book, Cressida describes Toothless as a disobedient, selfish and ungrateful dragon, but very attached to Hiccup. The film portrays Hiccup and Toothless as best friends, sharing a great rapport and being in tune with each other’s needs and wishes. Toothless is very obedient in the movie, except when he thinks he has a better plan than Hiccup. While Toothless is small enough to sit on Hiccup’s arm in the book, he is a huge dragon that Hiccup loves flying on in the film.

Another important difference is the way that Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship evolves. In the book, the villagers of Berk have a tradition of capturing and training dragons, and Hiccup captures Toothless in order to train him in accordance with the rite of passage. However, Toothless’ disobedience gives Hiccup much trouble, and he finally figures out his own way to train the dragon.

The story of the film is entirely different, as the Vikings of Berk consider the dragons to be their enemies. Hiccup, in an attempt to prove his worth to the village, tries to shoot down a dragon. He successfully manages to strike a Night Fury, and goes looking for the injured creature in order to finish it off. However, when he finally finds the dragon, he is unable to bring himself to kill it. Finally, he sets the dragon free and even designs a makeshift tail for him when he realizes it cannot fly on its own. As Hiccup spends time with the dragon and helps it take to the skies once more, the two become good friends. Eventually, Hiccup manages to convince the rest of the village that Vikings and dragons can co-exist peacefully, and even teaches the others how to befriend and train dragons.