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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Cartoon of the Month – Pokemon

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Image courtesy: Pinterest

All we wanna do, is have a good time,

Having lots of fun with all these friends of mine…

All we wanna do, is celebrate,

Every time we’ve been together it’s been great!

Pokemon for me can never be complete without this wonderfully melodious karaoke version of the song. The extent to which the TV series, which began as a Japanese anime called ‘Pocket Monsters’ (and hence ‘Pokemon’) has become a sensation worldwide can be gauged by the fact that even today both kids and adults prefer to spend a considerable amount of time roaming around their neighborhood and beyond, trying to get hold of these little elusive monsters with their noses glued to their phones!

Here are some interesting bits and pieces of information about our favorite monsters:

  • The much-beloved Pikachu’s name comes from a combination of pikapika (the Japanese onomatopoeia for sparkle) and chuchu (the sound of squeaking).
  • Many of our favorite Pokemon names are actually derived from numbers. For instance, the fabled trio of Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres end with the Spanish words for one, two and three (uno, dos and tres).
  • Ever heard of ‘Pikachurin’? It is a protein which was discovered by Japanese scientists in the year 2008 and named thus since it worked very well with electricity.

Close to 7 generations of pocket monsters, 6 anime series, 25 manga series and 18 full-length films plus the games which we all know of; can our love for Ash and his Pokemon friends grow any stronger than this?

Simple Ways to Make Your Child More Independent

‘The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.’

These words by Denis Waitley, the popular motivational speaker and writer, ring very true. However, more often than not, parents like us tend to do everything in their power to make life as seamless as possible for their kids. And while that comes naturally to over-protective mommies and daddies, we need to make sure we know where to draw the line, all for the greater good of our tiny tots.

Here are some simple ways we can help our kids become more independent and learn to stand on their own rapidly growing feet.

Following a basic routine

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Quotes” by fshnextension is licensed under CC by 2.0

Back in my childhood, I remember mom struggling to get me and my sister ready for school on time in the mornings. School mornings used to be nothing short of a whirlwind of activity – mum running to get the shoes on me while popping up the toaster and hurrying up my sister to finish her shower in ‘2 minutes flat’ (she loved to simply stand and hum under running water, regardless of how late she was). Eventually, we were told what all we needed to do ourselves. Our school clothes would be neatly laid out, provided we dress ourselves up, top to toe. Likewise, breakfast would be waiting for us in the kitchen, and we needed to clear up our plates even if the bus was honking outside. Agreed, it was difficult in the beginning but then eventually we got the hang of it. Once I missed the school bus because I couldn’t find my shoe at the last moment. That taught me more than what days of mother’s tirades could. Today, since my kids are homeschooled, they don’t have a bus impatiently honking for them outside. But yes, class is at home sharp at 9 am and they know they need to be dressed and ready in their seats then. A basic routine helps in inculcating a sense of self-discipline in any individual, kids or adults.

Daily/weekly grocery shopping

This one is for slightly older kids. You could begin with guiding your son/daughter through the supermarket, armed with a list of things to be bought. Helping you with grocery shopping is fun for them too; they get to decide what goes on the list before leaving for the grocery store, they can then check off the items one by one once each object is in the shopping basket and they learn how to handle money plus not overshoot the budget for the day. A treat once in a while doesn’t matter but kids should know that having a fixed budget and not going overboard helps them to save for the future. For younger kids, one could introduce the piggy bank concept and put in a couple of pennies saved for every shopping expedition.

Caring for pets

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

Now this one is a dicey option. Not everyone is in favor of having a pet dog or a cat at home (including me). But I’ve seen my kids bonding with the Labrador next door; they will forget their own lunch but will dash out of the house before time when they know the pet will come out to his kennel for his mealtimes. Apart from the fact that dogs, for instance, make great companions, children are generally very responsive to pets they can proudly call ‘their very own’ and don’t shy away from taking responsibility for them. Many of my parent friends vouch for this fact. Though I partly agree with them, I do understand that having a pet is a huge responsibility for the entire family, not just the kids. So it’ll probably be just a pet turtle along with the usual virtual pets for my kids to begin with, for now. Then we’ll decide whether we’re ready for the big decision.

Also, we need to remember that praising the little ones for small tasks they’ve managed to accomplish on their own will help them a great deal in the feel-good factor. It may be something as simple as buttoning up their shirt correctly, or tying up their shoelaces (a tad haphazardly) the first time. But it’s a big deal for them, and thus a big deal in turn, for us. :)

Cartoon of the Month – Dexter’s Laboratory

A bespectacled boy genius-cum-inventor-cum-bully to his sibling Dee Dee (“Stay out of my laboratory!”), who has a secret elaborate laboratory down in the basement of his very own house, Dexter’s Laboratory is a cartoon which has always been way ahead of its time – concealed buttons and switches such as the one which can be activated by pulling out a specific book from a bookshelf, passwords which need to be spoken out loud in order to gain entry into a particular room in the lab and so on.  Right from the time the cartoon caught my fancy, I’ve been thrilled at the way his secret laboratory was unknown to his parents too; I mean, here I was trying (unfortunately) to have a secret drawer to myself, and this young superhero had a whole, extensive laboratory. Not fair.

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Image courtesy: YouTube

  • The popular cartoon series holds the distinction of being the first original animated series in the history of Cartoon Network.
  • It may sound absurd, but the idea for Dexter started off with a drawing of a ballerina; definitely the stark opposite of what our cartoon hero is. However, it is precisely this play of opposites which came to the mind of creator Tartakovsky – ‘a short little brother with a love of science’.
  • Apparently, it was three different women (and not men) who voiced our little genius – Christine Cavanaugh, Candi Milo and later Tara Strong (credited with voicing cute little Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls).

Such is the popularity of Dexter’s Laboratory that speculation about the cartoon series refuses to die down. For instance, some people claim Dee Dee is not actually his elder sister but his ‘time-traveling daughter’, sent back in time to prevent poor old Dexter from working on an invention that had ultimately blown the world to smithereens in the past. Sounds possible, now that one comes to think of it. Wotsay?

The Big Easter Spring Clean

Like every year, Easter has come and gone in the blink of an eye. There were many firsts this year with regard to the festive occasion – the whole family was together for once (grandparents included) and we had a gala karaoke night yelling ourselves hoarse; I didn’t think I would manage but I did (thankfully) cook up a storm and it was appreciated; and last but not the least, we had a massive clearing-out (read: spring cleaning) of the house before extended family members arrived at our place. The best part? The entire family pitched in. Happily. Believe it or not, cleaning up every nook and corner was less of a chore, more of a fun time.

Sigh. I’m so relieved and so happy and so de-cluttered that I’m lying back on my bean bag, taking in all the squeaky clean sights and smells of our home and playing my son’s favorite pet games on my tablet (yes, that jobless I feel at the moment). What’s more, I’ve made a promise to myself to have an annual spring cleaning ritual every year. For those of you who are apprehensive of the long drawn-out hours it requires, I promise you it’s all worth it in the end. Here are a couple of ways we tried to make the entire process more enjoyable (the aim was to make it bearable initially but it eventually turned out to be fun). Here goes.

Shopping spree

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Bucket” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images is licensed under CC by 2.0

Not exactly Easter shopping; we went cleaning supplies shopping a week before D-day. Each one of us was to pick the object of our choice in our favorite colors. Brooms I had aplenty, so what we needed were cleaning liquids, dusting cloths, tissue paper, a dustpan (our original one is lost at home somehow; gasping for breath under all the trash which we need to clear out, I’m sure) which turned out to be two dustpans bought in neon yellow and pink (kids’ wanted one each so I let them) and floor mats. We came back laden with stuff, obviously enough to last us for half a dozen Easters in the future.

Teamwork

Together Everyone Achieves More – that is what a TEAM is all about. So we split up into two teams. Daughter and I one, son and dad the other. The former team was entrusted with the more intricate task of going room by room, shelf by shelf. We had three huge boxes with us – keep, throw and give away. Once done with a particular room, the latter team came in to dust, sweep, mop and reach the upper shelves and hard to reach corners of the windows and even door knobs with their dusting cloths. In the meantime, team one moved on to other rooms and team two followed.

Goodie breaks

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Bake” by Pexels is licensed under CC by 2.0

It is but obvious that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to cook wholehearted meals the entire duration of the designated cleaning day. Hence, we decided we would have a goodie break (from ‘food supplies’ which we had bought along with the ‘cleaning supplies’) once we were done with every room, even though that made it a whole lot of breaks. This way we had something to look forward to in spite of the hard work. Well, who is complaining when there are marshmallow mini cakes, lemon and sugar cookies, macarons and carrot cake rolls to be wolfed down every hour or two? Needless to say, it was a no-holds barred cheat day for all of us. Ironically enough, the kitchen took us the longest to sort and clean!

The perfect end

Speaking from this recent personal experience, giving the house a thorough clean-through is totally cathartic. It is tiring obviously, and many a time it will be extremely tempting to just do away with your broom and dustpan and have a nap on the living room sofa. But then if you go on and actually finish up, it’s like wow! We did, and of course we were totally pooped out at the end of it all. Hence, there simply had to be the perfect end to this very hard worked day. And as they say, there’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap! So a family pizza party it was, to mark the occasion.

Hope you had a great Easter too, spring cleaning or not. Till next time, then!

Cartoon of the Month – Scooby Doo

While our cartoon of the previous month was all about the sonorous ‘Yabba Dabba Doo!’, this month I’m taking up another favorite of mine, which has the ‘Doo’ part common – the perpetually 7-year-old (49 years old in dog years),  lovable, talking, brown Great Dane – Scooby Doo.

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Image courtesy: CinemaBlend

I loved mysteries and anything to do with solving them as a kid, and hence two things regarding the same which were an inevitable part of my childhood years were, one, Enid Blyton mysteries and two, the Scooby Doo cartoon series which was also about mysteries, albeit of a relatively comical, supernatural kind solved by the four teenagers – Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley and Shaggy Rogers.

  • This children’s all-time favorite holds the distinction of a Guinness World Record for the maximum number of episodes of a cartoon comedy series.
  • The show was initially supposed to be called ‘Mystery Five’, then ‘Mysteries Five’, followed by ‘Who’s Scared’ (which was then believed to be a tad too scary for the targeted kids’ audience) and finally the ‘Scooby Doo’ that we know of.
  • Scooby Doo is not just about cartoons – it has major motion pictures, board games, computer games, video games, comic books and even novels.

Be it the creepy background sounds at the beginning of each episode or the wonderfully relatable characters – the stylish Daphne, the popular and sought-after Fred, the intelligent bookworm Velma and the true-to-his-name Shaggy – Scooby Doo will always make for a fascinating watch, at least for me.

“Zoinks!” as Shaggy would put it!

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?