Seasonal Book Library

I read Simplicity Parenting and it recommended de-cluttering kids’ rooms so there were fewer toys and (gasp) books available to them.  I forgot the exact number, but I think the book advocated having five books out at a time for young kids.  Um, we can’t do that.  We started out with about five books when my oldest was born.  Now we have three shelves full of kid books.  I love books.  My daughters love books.  We have lots of books.

book library

But I get it.  The idea is if you only keep a few books out a time, it won’t be so overwhelming to kids.  Five favorite books is easy and simple.  Too many choices can be a bad thing.  And admittedly, it is difficult to find a particular favorite book on our overcrowded shelves.  I like the idea of focusing on only a few books at a time.  I also like the idea of weeding out some of our books.  So I took out all the seasonal/holiday books and put them away in a closet.

spring books

When it was winter, we had all of our snowmen and mitten books on a special shelf downstairs.  Now that it is spring (hurray!), the winter books are gone and replaced with flower and Easter books.  It makes the books a little more special and exciting that they only come out during a certain times during the year.

You could do this with any books, not just seasonal.  Just put away some of your books and then create a rotating library in your child’s room.  It can change every week, month, or season…depending on when you remember.  🙂


Learning with the Olympics


We’re not a TV-watching family.  In fact, we don’t even have a TV.  We watch shows on our computer.  But for the past few days we have been glued to the Olympics.  With snow piled up on the ground outside, it’s nice to cuddle together under a blanket and watch some TV.  I remember watching when I was little and then practicing figure skating on the linoleum kitchen floor.  Fast forward to Big Sis jumping around the family room showing us her “snowboard moves.”  It makes my heart happy.

And while we are watching, we are learning about..

  • Sports– Being exposed to new sports is a great learning opportunity.  It gives kids background knowledge that will help their reading comprehension.  If they are reading a book where the characters are skiing, but they have no idea how to ski, it will be difficult to understand the book.
  • Sportsmanship–  The athletes reactions to falling down or low scores make good conversation starters about good (or bad) sportsmanship.
  • Geography– Just hearing the names of other countries is increasing kids’ knowledge about the world.  You can take it a step further and look up the countries on a map or globe as you are watching.  Talk about continents.  Compare sizes of countries.  The list goes on and on.
  • Flags– Play a game and point out our country’s flag each time you see it on the screen.  Identify other country’s flags and see if they can remember a few.  Or print out a sheet of flags and play a match game with the ones you see on TV.
  • Math–  There are numbers all over the place!  Younger kids can play “find the numbers” and call out 1-10 when they see it on bibs, scores, etc.  Older kids will be able to understand more about scores and times.  You can talk about place value with tenths of a second.  You can do math problems about how many more points someone needs to be in first.  Or make a table to show the metals from each country and add them up every day.

And then you can extend that learning.  You know, away from the TV.

  • Play a winter sport– Go ice skating.  Try out skiing.
  • Go to the library– Read books about the Olympics, a favorite sport, athlete, or country.
  • Make your own Olympics–  This is a family favorite.  Make up your own events and get the whole family involved.  The events can be board games, video games, obstacle courses, silly tricks, or even chores.
  • Get crafty–  There are lots of Olympics-related crafts on Pinterest. Get out your scissors and glue and get to it!

Ten Ways to Spend Time with Your Kids


February is the month of love.  There are so many ways to show your kids that you love them: kisses, food, helping them with homework, and of course telling them every day.  Kids appreciate all of it.  But I think they especially value quality time with their parents.  Those moments together, big or small, are when they make their memories of childhood.

Here are some ways to make some memories with your little ones.  Try them out and see which ones work best for your family!

  1. Date your kid.  It doesn’t matter if it is going to a movie, seeing a monster truck rally, or just getting an ice cream cone together.  Put on the calendar.  Make it a big deal.  It is important to spend time with each kid individually, and that each child gets to date each parent individually.  One-on-one is very different from the group dynamic.
  2. Give them a few minutes every day.  Set a timer for 10 minutes every night and do whatever your child wants you to do…video games, reading, playing Barbies.  They get to decide.  You give them your full attention.  If they are having trouble coming up with ideas (or too young or can’t take turns deciding), write down some games/activities around the house and make an idea jar.
  3. Make something together.  It is quality time and you have a finished product to remember it by.  You can do something as simple as draw a picture with each of you adding things to it or as complicated as a model car kit.
  4. Do chores together.  This is not glamorous, and it might not be super fun, but it is a way to squeeze some extra time together.  I know it is faster to load the dishwasher yourself.  Slow down, let them help, and you might have a great conversation.  Maybe they can even learn something doing dishes and laundry.
  5. Make a calendar of possible activities.  We keep a calendar (Google calendar works great) of possible kid activities.  I make a note of weekly events like library storytime, discount days at indoor playgrounds, etc.  If I hear about a special program at a museum or zoo, I jot it down.   Then each day I have some pre-planned ideas for us to do together.  And if the day comes and we don’t want to do it…no harm, no foul.  It is just a calendar of possibilities.
  6. Interview each other.   Make a video of you interviewing your kid about their favorite color, food, or movie.  It will be a great keepsake to look back on.  Then let your child be the interviewer and ask you the questions!
  7. Take advantage of the commute.  Instead of turning on the radio, talk or play a game together the next time you are in the car.
  8. Try a screen-free day.  No TV, computer, or iPad…and that means you, too!  All that time away from individual screens, means more time spent together.
  9. Cook together.  One night a week, let them choose dinner and then help make it.  As a bonus, kids are usually more willing to try new foods when they help prepare them!
  10. Change the routine.  What if you can’t fit in any extra time?  Switch up the time you already spend with them.  Instead of eating dinner at the table, eat it on the floor as a picnic.  When you are getting ready in the morning, sing everything you say to them.  When you tuck them in, tell them a story instead of reading a book.  It’s not MORE time, but it is different and they will notice.

How to Get Free (or Really Cheap) Kid Books

If reading is the best way to teach your kids, then books are the best things to give them.  Here are a few ways to get free (or really cheap) books for your kids:

  • book trade playdate–  Have books that you no longer want or multiple copies of the same book?  Invite friends over for a playdate and everyone brings a set number of books.  Then you can take turns picking out “new” books
  • book baby shower– Have each guest bring their favorite children’s book and write a little message in it.  This is especially a great idea for a second (or third or whatever) baby shower when you already have the necessities.
  • book birthday party– Ask for books for presents!
  • Craigslist– Check out the “free” and “kid” sections of your local Craiglist.
  • Freecycle– See if anyone wants to get rid of kid books in your area.
  • garage sales– Look for garage sales with kids items and go right before they close.  They will probably sell you a whole box of books for a few dollars just so don’t have to pack them up!
  • used book sales– Libraries and elementary schools sometimes host used book sales as a fundraiser.  The school where I taught had a sale every spring- paperbacks for $.50 and hardbacks for $1!
  • thrift stores– As well as selling used clothes and toys…there are also books!
  • Half Price Books– Shop the clearance section for amazing deals.  This was my go-to shop for books in my classroom.
  • Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library– If there is a program available in your area, you can sign-up to get a book in the mail every month!  This programm is for kids from birth to five years old.

The Princess Problem


As the mom to a four-year-old girl and two-year-old, my house is usually littered with dress up clothes.  I find tutus in the bathroom and crowns in the kitchen.  Sometimes they go through about five outfits (a piece!) in a day.  Then there are fits and tears when I tell them to put on real clothes to go to the grocery store.  Dress up is kinda getting on my nerves.

I know kids should be kids.  They are only young once and all that.  Dress up is great fun and educational, too.  Pretending you are someone else and acting out that role is wonderful for developing creativity and social skills.  So why don’t I want to take a princess to Target?  Well…

The most practical reason is it’s cold outside.  And everyone knows princesses NEVER wear coats!  At least that’s what I hear in my house.  Since no one wants to cover their dress up outfit, let’s just take it off and wear something, you know….with sleeves.  Yeah, I am the meanest mom ever.

And then there is the “pretty” reason (pause to step up on my feminist soapbox).  Girls get a lot of attention for wearing a fancy dress in public.  I don’t think my daughters have ever left the house in a dress or skirt and didn’t hear “Oh, you are so pretty!” or “What a beautiful little princess!”  Do people say that to a girl dressed in jeans?  Not so much.  My girls now think to be pretty you have to wear a dress.  I know there will be many years of clothing-related self-esteem issues in their future….I just don’t want to start that at age two.

And probably the biggest reason I don’t like dress up….I hate princesses.  There.  I said it.  Are princesses really the ideal that we want our daughters to emulate?  My oldest daughter asked me what makes a girl a princess, and I had to explain about family lineage and the ruling class.  Well, not exactly in those words. 🙂  But you know what I mean…why are we glorifying princesses?  Why not celebrate women who actually do something?  Why not try to take the emphasis off of looks and focus on their contribution?  It makes me think of the 10 Real World Princesses drawings.

Sigh.  Stepping down.  Pretend play is important and there is nothing wrong with dressing-up in a fancy skirt every now and then.  I’m not going to ban all Disney princess paraphernalia from my house.  And I didn’t say anything when my youngest daughter wanted to a be, of course, a princess for Halloween.  Although, I was secretly happy that she didn’t know Cinderella’s name and just called her “the blue princess.”  I feel like I’m doing something right. 🙂

Car Essentials for Traveling with Kids

Now that I officially have a momobile, there a few items that are always in the car:

  • Diapers and baby wipes– I use my car like a giant diaper bag.
  • Complete change of clothes for each kid– This might be a pie-in-the-sky goal, but it sure is nice if they get wet in sprinkler (or wet for another reason).
  • Anti-bacterial handwash
  • tissues
  • ziploc or plastic bags– For all those new-found treasures!
  • blanket– Use it for picnics in warm weather, warmth in cold months.
  • water bottle for each kiddo

And the most important….  ACTIVITY BAG!  Between the two car seats, I store activities that are easily reachable.  I change out the activities every time I clean my car (so not often!)  The activities are ideally small (to fit in the bag) with no removable parts (nothing gets lost).  Bonus points if I can get two of them so both girls can do it at the same time.  Our activity bag contains:

  • paper and writing tool– The girls like pens, but be careful because you might find your kiddos with some new body art…..not that it has ever happened to us (wink, wink).  Crayons woudl be good in the winter months when they won’t melt.
  • Magna Doodle– This is a Kerr girl favorite.  We have one for each girl.
  • Reading books– Throw in some familiar books so they can practice reading.
  • Flip charts or books–  These books usually have three sections that can be flipped to create different drawings.  Something like this: Flip-o-saurus.  I found ours at a used bookstore.
  • “Look and find” books– Think Where’s Waldo?  This will keep them entertained for awhile!
  • kaleidoscope
  • Movable toys– These are my favorite!  They can be wood, plastic, or wire.  They should be all one piece, but easily movable into different shapes.  Great to stimulate creative thinking!IMG_7396
  • plastic, light-up, talking toys–  I wouldn’t recommend these (for your own sanity), but we have a few.  Hopefully they are relatively quiet or have a volume control.IMG_7394
  • phone or tablet– On long car trips, we give the girls turns on the iPad (with a timer so no one can complain).  As much as I prefer non-electronic toys, the iPad is a great learning tool and the kids LOVE it.  And if the kids are happy, quiet, and learning….then Mama is happy!

Learning in the Car

Driving in the car is a chore we do every day.  It’s a great time to interact with your kiddo since they are a captive audience. 🙂  Of course, there is a lot to be said for a few minutes of silence.  But if you get bored of the quiet (or it is not quiet at all because the natives are getting restless), here are a few ideas…


  • Talk out loud about….anything!  Provide a running commentary about what is out the window, what streets you are on, where you are going, or what you’d like to eat for lunch.
  • Sing familiar songs: Mary Had a Little Lamb, ABCs, etc.
  • Talk out loud about….anything!  Provide a running commentary about what is out the window, what streets you are on, where you are going, or what you’d like to eat for lunch.
  • Call attention to when the car stops and when it moves.  Talk about red and green lights.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

  • Talk about….anything!  Ask them questions about their day or where you are going.  Try to ask them questions that will start a conversation and not just a “no” or “yes.”
  • Sing familiar songs, but change some words and see if they notice.  Mary Had a Little Lion.  Kids think this is hilarious!
  • Talk about driving rules and signs.  What does a yellow light mean?  Why are their lines on the road?  What does a red sign mean?
  • Play “I Spy a Color.”  See if they can find something red out the window or in the car.  Once they find something, change the color.
  • Play “I’m Thinking of an Animal.”  Traditionally you ask yes or no questions to figure out the animal.  (Does the animal live on a farm?  Does the animal fly?)  For this age, giving those clues first and then allowing guessing works best. (I’m thinking of an animal that has wings and lives on a farm.  Can you guess what it is?)
  • Ask some simple addition and subtraction math problems related to driving.  (There are 3 people in the car now.  After we pick up brother from school, how many will be in the car then?)
  • Count something together for the length of the (short) trip: the number of trucks you see, how many times you have to stop at a red light, the number of bicyclists on the road
  • Come up with as many rhymes as you can for a given word.  Teach them how to go through the alphabet and rhyme: at, bat, cat, dat (no, that’s not a word)


  • Talk about…anything!  Driving is a great time to catch up and ask them about school, friends, sports, or hobbies.
  • Talk about driving.  Why are steering wheels on the left side of the car?  What does “miles per hour” mean?  Why are speed limits important?
  • Ask “If you could be a _____________ what would you be and why?”  Fill in the blank with animal, item in your classroom, food, plant, etc.  Make sure you play, too!
  • Create an addition and subtraction game related to driving.  Let the kids come up with rules.  Maybe for every truck you get 2 points for every green light you pass and subtract a point for every red light.  This is great mental math practice!  You can always make the game easier or more difficult by changing the objects or point values.
  • Play “I’m Thinking of an Animal” the traditional way by asking yes or no questions to figure out the animal.  Vary the game by playing “I’m Thinking of a Sport” or “I’m Thinking of a Number between 1 and 100” or “I’m Thinking of a Book.”
  • Play “I Spy something that starts with the letter _____”
  • Practice spelling words by taking turns saying the letters.
  • Take turns thinking of as many things that starts with a certain letter.
  • Choose a category of things (for example: food).  Name something in that category (pizza).  Then the next person has to name something that starts with the last letter of the item (a- apple…and then e- enchilada)

Choosing Books for Every Age


  • Board books or indestructible books  so you won’t have to worry about baby tearing it up
  • Black and white or bright colors for babies developing eyesight
  • Short books for little ones with short attention spans
  • One word per page to identify objects
  • Simple rhyming books such as Mother Goose
  • Large faces in the illustrations…better yet, make your own book with pictures of family members

Toddler and Preschooler books

  • Board books or stiff paper books are easier for little fingers
  • Texture or lift-the-flap books with things to touch
  • One word per page to identify objects
  • Mother Goose or other rhyming books
  • Simple stories with a beginning, middle, and end
  • Alphabet, color, or number books
  • Books about an area of interest: trains, favorite animals, princesses, etc.
  • Non-fiction books that relate to their life:  animals at the zoo, how to make cookies, new baby in the family, etc.

Elementary books (K-3)

  • Books for beginning readers- fewer words, rhyming words, repeating words
  • Simple stories with a beginning, middle, and end
  • Fairy tales
  • Longer books for read alouds
  • Books about an area of interest
  • Non-fiction books that relate to their life:  subject studying in school, family vacation, hobbies, etc.
  • Chapter books for advanced readers- Check to make sure subject matter is appropriate for their age-level.

Upper Elementary books (4-6)

  • Chapter books
  • Picture books with complex plots or subject matter
  • Non-fiction books: subject studying in school, area of interest, biography, etc.

The best way to choose a book is if it makes you or your child happy.  Start with books that you enjoyed when you were little.  Then ask friends with kids to recommend some good ones.   For older children, ask their teacher and librarian which books fit your children’s reading level.  But don’t let that limit you.  Maybe your first grader is reading on a second grade reading level.  That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t enjoy reading first grade or even kindergarten books every now and then.  And it doesn’t mean you can’t read a third grade chapter book together before bedtime.  Remember, your job is to provide your kiddo with lots of book choices, and let them make the final decision.

Happy reading!

What Should a 4 Year Old Know?

With Back to School season upon us, I’ve been seeing “What Should a 4 Year Old Know?” posted a lot on Facebook.  The author states parents shouldn’t be so concerned about their preschooler doing a checklist of skills.  Instead, they need to let children be free to explore, make a mess, and have fun.  I agree.  Parents need to calm down, put away the flashcards, and go have fun with their kids.  After all, everyone learns in their own time.  They are only four-years-old once.  Worry less, and play more.

However, I also think most parents that ask “What should a 4 year old know?”  have their hearts in the right place.  They don’t want to get their kid on Leno for memorizing all the names of the presidents.  They just want their kid to feel smart when they start kindergarten.  They want the best for their kids.  Nobody wants their child to begin their school career feeling confused and left behind when everyone else knows how to count to ten. Those feelings stick with kids.

I think there is a middle ground between constant unstructured free time and constant drill and practice with flash cards.  I agree with the author that learning should be worked into life naturally.  How about spending time with your kids and finding some teachable moments in fun activities?  You can count how many cups you need while cooking or how many elephants you see at the zoo.  You can find letters in signs as you drive.  You can do a shape hunt at the playground or write letters in the sandbox.  They get the benefit of having fun with you AND they learn academic skills.

I have a 4 year old.  She is not going to preschool at all this year.  She will start kindergarten next fall.  My plan is to have fun and make some memories (probably mostly mine) of this last year before she starts school.  And the learning?  I think this will prepare her enough for kindergarten.

Food Smart

I have an embarrassing confession.  I am not a healthy eater and I don’t even know what most vegetables look like.  As a twentysomething I was eating a salad (a big achievement for me!) and someone commented about my spinach.  WHAT?!  I was eating spinach?!  I honestly thought spinach was yucky, slimy, green stuff in a can.  It never occurred to me that it was a leaf.  Ridiculous.

I am determined for my own girls to grow up healthier and smarter.  Okay.  I’m not going to get all crazy and never go to McDonald’s again.  Trust me.  I still want to eat cheeseburgers.  I just want them to know about other foods, too.

Besides being good for your body, trying all kinds of food also gives you general background knowledge that aids in reading comprehension.  You will understand a lot more about a book about pineapples, for example, if you have a background knowledge of what a pineapple looks like, tastes like, and how it grows.

So what can we do as parents?

1.  Let kids see food in their natural form as much as possible.  Yes, you can buy corn in a can.  But show them what an ear of corn looks like in the grocery store.  Or better yet, look at a corn field.  It seems like common sense…but if you don’t show kids, then they don’t know (ie my spinach story).

2.  Try it!  Make trying new foods part of your routine.  We have a “Try One Bite” rule at our house.  After that bite, everyone is free to say “no thank you” and eat other things on his/her plate.

3.  Grow it!  Kids are much more likely to try something if they have invested their time in growing it.  Start small with a just a seed and a pot or do a whole garden in the backyard.  And check out these garden resources from the USDA:

4.  Pick it!  Look for farms where you can pick your own strawberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, etc.  This is a great experience to see how food is grown, harvested, and (if you are ambitious) used in cooking.

4.  Make it a fun game.  Slice up a few different fruits and kids close their eyes and guess which fruits they are tasting.  Or try a few foods and put them into categories of fruits/vegetables or yummy/yucky.

5.  Make it a family goal.  Maybe pick out one new fruit or vegetable each time you go to the grocery store?  After reading Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert we set the goal of eating everything in the book.  As you can imagine, I’ve never even seen most of them.