Favorite Children’s Books

I vividly remember reading Guess How Much I Love You to my newborn son as he lay on my chest as I lay on the couch. It was the first children’s book that I ever read as a dad. It meant everything to me and probably nothing to him. After all, he was a just week old and could not interpret English yet, while I was 28 and desperately needed to embrace both the challenges and the rewards of fatherhood.

It was the summer of 1998, and my life was being turned upside down and inside out by just one tiny child. We were in process of preparing for a cross-country move, changing careers, selling a house, buying a house, all with and a colicky newborn. In no small way, that book helped me to put things in better perspective. Yes, my life was changing radically, but the “I love you to the moon and back” message of the book was a mantra that helped me to embrace a new lifestyle of sacrificial love.

Reading children’s books has been a daily activity in our home ever since then. Our 19-year-old daughter has intellectual disabilities and cannot read on her own, but she absolutely loves to read with others. Fortunately, her favorite books, like The Grumpy Monkey, are also our favorites. These books remind us of some of life’s most important lessons. They help us to process our emotions. They put things in better perspective. And they make us laugh. A lot. Which is often all we need. Sharing laughter with a child is sacred, priceless, and healing.

A good children’s book, read together in close physical contact, is a powerful tool for instilling the secure attachment that children desperately need. A good story. A good laugh. A good hug. This combination is 10,000 times better than letting a child play with an iPad. It is the antidote to the electronic walls of isolation that so many of our children are growing up within.

Reading with children is the foundation of a healthy childhood

Here are some all-time favorite books for children of all ages (although they are written for very small children). Please buy them for the parents, children, and school teachers you know.

The Grumpy Monkey

Guess How Much I Love You

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings

You Are My Heart

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Hey! Wake Up!

Tickle Monster

A, You’re Adorable

Curious George’s First Day of School

The Runaway Bunny

The Wide-Mouthed Frog: A Pop-up Book

Frog and Toad Are Friends

Give Me Back My Dad!

I Like It When…

The Ox-Cart Man

Little Owl

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus

The Jesus Storybook Bible

When We’re Together

Pajama Time!

Bedtime for Little Bears!

I Love You. Goodnight.

Snuggle Up, Sleepy Ones

I Love You, Sleepyhead

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High-Tech Tools in Schools

Too Much Tech at School?

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a popular trend sweeping schools this year. Schools with BYOD policies will be asking students to bring an Internet-Connected Mobile Device (smartphones, tablets, laptops) to school each day. Many educators believe that in the very-near future most books for school (textbooks, novels, workbooks) will be stored on a digital device instead of stuffed in a locker or backpack. This new movement is being met with some excitement, some trepidation, and lots of questions.

As with all new high-tech devices, there is an awkward break-in period, in which developers rapidly create new applications and accessories, users experiment excitedly with various functions, and society struggles to manage the consequences. It takes at least a decade for the dust to settle. Just think of the cell phone. It’s been around for twenty years, and people are still struggling with how to use it in a productive but healthy way. We still lack a standard set of “rules of the road” for cell phones. Since BYOD is just beginning, I would like to offer my own set of questions and concerns.

I own a MacBook and an iPad, and they are tremendous tools for me as a teacher and a writer. I use them daily, and they serve me well. They are not evil inventions. Far from it. As with every bit of technology, they are not immoral. The devil is in the details of their usage.

Whether it’s an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, it is a multi-functional devices that is not a simple educational tool. It is a video camera, a Facebook device, a YouTube player, a video game console, an email station, a texting device, a music and video player, among countless other fun applications.

Michael Simon, in his new book titled The Approximate Parent, says “Digital media is ever-present and incredibly attractive to teen brains — especially teen brains that register novelty, risk-taking and the feeling of connection as highly pleasurable. The Internet, gaming, and use of social media are addicting.” We need to realize that these devices are not just another tool in a line of educational tools, the way the VHS followed the film strip projector.

There is an age-appropriate time and place for these digital devices, and I believe it is our task as parents and educators to make those decisions for the young people in our care. This is no small task. In fact, Continue reading “High-Tech Tools in Schools”

A Scholastic Tuneup

Many teachers will tell you that it’s the middle of the school year when most learning takes place. So, let’s take a quick look at some old and some new ideas for helping young students get the most of their education right now in the heart of the school year.

Some Basics

Rest: Get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  The more consistent, the better.

Eat a large healthy breakfast, like oatmeal and eggs. Don’t skip a meal. And don’t eat high-sugar foods during the day.

Focus: Use any spare class time to work on homework, rather than socializing. If needed, ask to sit away from a friend who can’t stop talking.

Friends: Use recess, passing times, lunch, and before/after school time for socializing.

Drink water throughout the day. Take a water bottle to class.

Move. Don’t skip recess or PE. Exercise helps academic concentration.

Homework: Setup a spot in the home that is quiet and supplied for schoolwork.

Time: Set aside time every night for homework and have an adult available to help if needed. A little exercise right after school is helpful.

Daily Planner: Use a planner to keep track of assignments, tests, quizzes, and project due dates.  Use it in every class, everyday.

Locker: Keep it organized and tidy. Organized students learn more and get better grades.

Something New

Young people will tell you that they think best when they have music on and when they can access their friends with their digital devices. Continue reading “A Scholastic Tuneup”

Reading Textbooks Well

Reading a Textbook Well

      How to Read Smarter, not Harder

      When reading a school textbook, a fluent reader will:

 1.  Survey all the titles, headings, vocabulary terms, tables, and questions because he knows that those things hold big clues about the overall purpose and meaning of the text.

2.  Read quickly but carefully, guessing at new words, but not racing to the end or skipping large chunks of text.  He reads as fast he can comprehend.

3.  Decelerate during what feels like an important section of text.

4.  Ask questions about each section: “What was that all about?” and “What new things am I learning here?”  If he can’t answer, then he goes back to re-read the confusing parts.

5.  Answer with great care the questions that go with the text.

  • Study each question very carefully, even more carefully than he reads the text.  If he does not understand the question, he asks the teacher or somebody else for help.
  • Use context to form his answers.  He does not just find the key word in the text and grab a few words next to it. He reads the sentences before and after the key word.
  • Paraphrase answers. He puts answers in own words, rather than just copying exactly what the book says.

Books for Boys

Finding a well-written, entertaining book for a boy who hates to read is always a challenge.

 

Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen, grabs your attention at the get-go. It opens, “One day, it seemed he was eleven and playing in the dirt around the cabin or helping with chores, and the next, he was thirteen, carrying a .40 caliber Pennsylvania flintlock rifle, wearing smoked-buckskin clothing and moccasins, moving through the woods like a knife though water while he tracked deer to bring home to the cabin for meat.”

This is a book for the reluctant male reader.  It is just 164 pages and moves quickly but with plenty of detail in the right places.  It has characters that you root for, conflicts that create tension, and plenty of interesting historical information about everyday life during the Revolutionary War.  Most importantly, the author makes the reader feel the struggle, the pain, and the chaos of the war, with an appropriate amount of detail (not too much for an eleven year old, but not too little for an adult.)  The reader witnesses death, destruction, and disease, as well as heroism that, against all odds, continues to fight for what is good.

Paulsen does not glamorize war.  He shines a light on war’s destructiveness, in which we see the very worst of man’s nature, as well as the very best.  It’s a tense story with a very real conflict that is deeply felt.  To the very end, it is not predictable.  In fact, at several points a long the way, Paulsen shocks the reader with something completely unforeseen yet entirely believable.

The main character, Samuel is an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy whose life is transformed in extraordinary ways. The publisher writes, “Gary Paulsen brings readers into the flesh-and-blood reality of one boy’s struggle in the long and savage war that changed people’s lives in infinite ways.”  It’s best to just read it, without reading the jacket cover or anything.  Is it a sad story? Yes.  Is it full of exciting action? Yes.  Is it deeply depressing and full of despair? No.  Similar to the birth of America, it is a tale of tragedy and triumph.  It is just the sort of book that boys (ages 10-14+) should be reading.  And the values taught within the tale will be tops on anyone’s list: loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice for others, resiliency, and resourcefulness.

Some other good books for boys, related to boys surviving difficult obstacles:

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Holes, by Jeff Sachar

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen

The King of Mulberry Street, by Donna Jo Napoli

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series) by Rick Riordan

The Secret Benedict Society (Series) by Trenton Lee Stewart

Eragon (Series) by Chris Paolini

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Series) by Andrew Peterson

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In addition to reading about outdoor adventures, our kids need to get outdoors. So, sign those kids up for summer camps that get them outdoors.  Have a campout in the backyard. Go fishing. Try a hike you’ve never been on but have heard good things about. Anything.

Here’s a slideshow from our little Outdoor Camp.

 

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