Saturday, June 26, 2010

On The Road Again

The 4th of July is just around the corner which means patriotic festivities, BBQ and often, summer road trips. The holiday is a great excuse to sneak in a mid-summer history and geography lesson, under the guise of some entertaining reading and games!

When I was little I fondly recall reading The Little House series while on a road trip one summer, I honestly don't even remember where we went on our trip - but I do remember reading about Laura and Mary, Ma and Pa, and imagining what it would be like if we were traveling in a covered wagon instead of our Volvo station wagon. Some people prone to motion sickness can't read while in the car without getting sick, so books on tape or CD are a great alternative to bound books.

I would strongly recommend The Little House series as well as the diary-based Dear America and My Name is America series, especially for school aged kids. They are historical fiction stories from different times and places all over America, written from the perspective of young boys and girls - so you are bound to find one related to the place your trip is going and that your child identifies with.

For all ages here are a couple more fun books of facts and fun for the summer - Greetings from the 50 States: How They Got Their Names by Sheila Keenan is chock full of fun facts about all 50 states, their history, nicknames, and of course, how they got their names. Go, Go America: 50 States of Fun by Dan Yaccarino is full of entertainingly illustrated pages, following the map in the table of contents through all 50 states, each page with fun facts about the states.

What follows are some ideas for car games and survival kits to make road trips more bearable (along with the books of course). There are of course many books of car games available as well!

Making a Car Trip Survival Kit

Grab a backpack or tote bag, your child's school back pack can work - but if possible - having a special bag just for trips goes a long way in getting them excited about the trek ahead! Make sure their name is on it, that way it cuts down on spats about whose bag and whose. Here's a list of suggested items to stock it with:

  • A Small Pillow - for naps, camp pillows and travel pillows are great options
  • A Music Player and Headphones - because I don't know any kids that want to listen to dad's music all the time, or any parents that want to listen to their kid's music all the time either; you can also pre-load it with some of their favorite books read aloud - for younger kids pick something cheap and durable like the Lego MP3 player
  • An Activity Book - more than just a coloring book, but also with activities like word searches, mazes and math problems
  • Travel and Trivia Games - Brain Quest makes great portable decks of trivia questions on many topics and for all ages
  • A Road Atlas - a great opportunity to teach geography and map reading skills when your kids inevitably ask "are we there yet?!", you can help them follow the path of your trip in the map, ask them "what town comes next?", "what town is north of us? south of us?", "what direction are we heading?", "are there any rivers or lakes nearby?", "where is the next rest stop?", etc. Rand McNally makes great maps and road activities for kids.
  • Snacks and a Water Bottle - salty snacks make you retain water, sweet snacks can make you need to pee more often, so choose wisely when picking your road trip snacks; dried fruits, nuts and seeds are great options

Make Your Own Car Game Placemat

  • 11x17 paper - heavy weight, card stock if possible . . . 8.5x11 will work too
  • Slip cover, contact paper or laminator
  • Wet erase markers
On one side of the paper print a full color map of the US, with all of the states labeled. On the other side print or draw blank game boards such as Tic-Tac-Toe, Bingo and MASH. Laminate this on both sides with contact paper or take it to your local copy store to laminate. On the road you can use the map side to play blackout bingo with license plates - see if you can find all 50 states on the road with you! On the other side you can play multiple games of Tic-Tac-Toe, etc. all you need is a wet wipe to wipe your mess away and start all over again.

The bonus is that because it is a placemat - you can use it to make messes easier to clean up when you stop for lunch along the road side - and especially if you are having to eat in the car!

Safe and Fun Travels!! 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Life Lessons

When I was little my mom was pretty sneaky. I didn't really realize it at the time, at least not as much as I do now, but she would use books to teach us values and common sense. One of her favorite series to use was the now classic Berenstain Bears. When my baby brother was going to be born, we read Berenstain Bears, when she wanted to teach us about stranger danger, we read Berenstain Bears, when we were afraid of the dark, Berenstain Bears . . . they are still in publication and, in my opinion, as useful as ever when it comes to disseminating important information to children. They are entertaining and explain important topics in ways that kids understand. What follows is a list of some of my favorite titles, though there are many more:
  • The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers
  • The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners
  • The Bird, The Bees and the Berenstain Bears
  • The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need
  • The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dream
  • The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies
  • The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings
  • The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food
Check out their home at PBS Kids!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Making Music

I wanted to highlight to Jazz inspired poetry picture books today. Poetry and Jazz seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly, and these two books are good compliments to each other as well. The first is I Live in Music by Ntozake Shange and the other is Jazz by Walter Dean Myers. Though not a book of poetry, a good prose book to throw into the mix is Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman. All three of these books, and their illustrations, speak to the way that music makes us feel more alive.

Putting together a dress up trunk like the one in Song and Dance Man is a great way to bring these books to life. Gather up some old clothes from relatives, garage sales and/or thrift stores, include shoes and accessories too. Put on some music, for these books I would recommend Putumayo Kids' New Orleans Playground CD and let your kiddos put on a show!

When I was little my sister and I had a dress up trunk of old dresses and costume jewelry that was given to us for Christmas by my great-aunt and great-grandmother. We occasionally added new pieces as old ones got worn out - but it was well used for many years. Creating a dress up trunk is not just an investment for one day's activity, but for years of pretend play!

As a side note: creating your own dress up trunk from used clothes is a lot more personal than just buying one of the pre-fab trunks or costumes that are available - and it is a good green option that cuts down on consumer waste!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

My local library had a great display of books up for Father's Day at my last visit, so I grabbed the one with the most interesting title. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but title's are usually pretty telling and this one did not disappoint: The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman (who also happens to be the brilliant author of the Newbery Award winning The Graveyard Book - someday I'll do a whole post of Neil Gaiman books, but today is not that day).

The illustrations, by Dave McKean, are wonderful and the story is engaging. I hope you will check out a couple great Dad's Day books this year to share as a family. Dads, reading to your children is one of the bests gifts you can give them, and will insure that you will be knee-deep in ties, soap-on-a-rope and "World Greatest Dad" mugs, paperweights and mouse pads for years to come!