How do I keep my kid thinking over the summer?

July 1, 2014

Oh, you and me both, honey!  You and me both!  This is what I’m doing – please share your ideas in the comments!

  • Math, math, math!  I think this is the easiest thing for a kid to forget over the long, summer vacation.  Math-Aids.com is a great, free site that gives you topic-specific worksheets.  Maisonet Math costs $10 for a year of unlimited worksheets.  You can check out what they have before you pay.  Believe it or not, we actually pay for ixl.com in our family (mostly because I keep forgetting to shut off the renewal function!). IXL has math and language arts for kids K-12, but I hate to admit, my kid hardly ever does it.  He really doesn’t like online test stuff.  He’d rather write it all down on a piece of paper (but I think their content is great!).  And, hey, don’t go overboard.  Your kid should still have a <I>summer</I> after all.  I try for one math worksheet a day, 3-4x a week.
  • Reading time is important!  Here is an old post of mine regarding some great books for kids.  And, here is James Patterson’s site Read Kiddo Read.  Your local library is a great place to go during the summer (and all year!), and librarians are always a wonderful source of recommendations.  Also, I find it much more educational and inspiring to page through an encyclopedia than to miscellaneously go through information online – I think it might be because things online are linked, so they are connected in some way, but the information in a paper encyclopedia is alphabetical, so you get exposed to things you might not ever find out about otherwise.  Also, there’s a lot less inappropriate material for kids in a World Book Encyclopedia, as compared to the rough-and-tumble internet.
  • Limit video/computer game time!  Hey, I love them myself (I am a recovering 2048 and Kingdom Rush addict!), but you’ve got to limit the amount of time you play them, or seriously, your brain just turns to mush!  I prefer to have my son limit himself (doesn’t always work, but we’re getting better at it), and I use this timer from Oxo as a tool to help him do that.  (I’ve been a big fan of that timer for years.  Here’s an old post I wrote about it!)
  • Keep active, eat healthy, and try to maintain healthy sleep and eating habits!  Physical activity and healthy eating are important (duh), and sleep is necessary for all of us, especially children (who should get between 10 and 12 hours of sleep a night, and they often won’t “sleep in” even if they are up late!).  So, try to maintain a regular, early bedtime during the summer!

How can I learn Mandarin?

August 29, 2013

Another blog post in my back-to-school special!  If you’re trying to learn Mandarin, try McGraw Hill’s Chinese Pronunciation with CD-ROM.  In my experience as a non-native speaker of Mandarin, the hardest thing is the different tones.  Chinese is a tonal language, so it’s really important to get the tones right, and this book is wonderful for that.

I’ve also found The First 100 Chinese Characters by Alison Laurence Matthews (and the follow up The Second 100 Chinese Characters) to be extremely helpful in learning to write Chinese characters.  These books are great, because they are indexed well (in Chinese and in English), and they show stroke order stroke by stroke with directional arrows (instead of just a character with numbers next to it, which I’m not that crazy about).  There is one character per page, and several common words made from each one.  I love these books, and I refer to them ALL THE TIME.  I love them.  Seriously.

100 Chinese Character Books

I love these books for learning characters

Sample

This is how the first book deals with the polite form of “you,” which has 4 more strokes than the common form.

You can’t beat actually using the language in terms of trying to learn it.  I am shameless in my attempts to speak Mandarin (as bad as my accent is, and as limited as my vocabulary and understanding is).  Just talking to people is great, as is checking out youtube videos of people who speak Mandarin wonderfully, as well as people who are just learning.  Also, most Chinese television (that I’ve seen, anyway) is subtitled, and I love to watch it to see if I can pick out characters and actually match them with speech (quite challenging!).

Another great book to get more of a broad overview of the language from the personal anecdotes of a non-native learner is Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows.  It’s a short little book that I found very quick and easy (and enjoyable) to read.

Lastly, a great way to learn any language is to actually take a class and/or visit a country that uses it, but you didn’t expect me to start out with something that obvious, right?


Reference books for back to school?

August 28, 2013

Is it back to school time ALREADY?  (I’m trying to pretend I wasn’t counting the days.)  Here are my suggestions for dictionaries for students.

For children younger than fourth grade, I recommend The Scholastic Dictionary of Spelling.  There are no definitions, and it’s a smallish book (the paperback version is 272 pages / 15.25 oz) which is less intimidating than some of the bigger reference books out there and gets children used to looking up words.  There are wonderful sections on “How to look up a word if you don’t know how to spell it,” “A dozen and one spelling rules,” “Memory tricks,” and more.  I highly recommend it.

Scholastic Spelling Dictionary

I recommend this for children younger than fourth grade.

For children fourth grade and older, I recommend Webster’s Student’s Dictionary.  It says on the cover that it’s “written for ages 10-14,” and that it’s for “Middle School Students,” but I actually like using this dictionary myself!  It’s very well organized, has a lot of extra information (such as word histories, idiomatic phrases, biographical info on important people, and more), provides context for word usage, and the pages are (thankfully) less crowded and hard-to-read than a regular adult dictionary.  It’s a hardcover book just over 1000 pages and weighs about 4.5 lbs, so it’s a chore for smaller kids to get out and use (make sure it’s already on a desk for easy access).  I highly recommend this dictionary as well.  My son is not the kind of child to even want to use a dictionary, let alone look up words unprompted (uncoerced), but even he read a few of the extra side notes on certain words!  (A great example is on page 299 – the word history of the word “Eureka.”  Fascinating!)

Webster's Student Dictionary

This is a great dictionary for middle schoolers, but I think fourth graders can benefit from it, too. I even like to use it myself!

Student dictionary

You can kind of see how the information is organized.


Alert: Free show and book signing at Books of Wonder Tues 4/30/13 – 4 p.m.

April 28, 2013

Story Pirates at Books of Wonder 4_30_13

The Story Pirates will be at Books of Wonder this Tuesday to act out the story of Septimus Heap! My middle schooler LOVED this series and got me to read it, and I love it, too.  Do not miss this!  SUPPORT INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS!  

Free Theatre Storytime at Books of Wonder with Author Angie Sage and The Story Pirates!

Books of Wonder, the oldest and largest independent children’s bookstore in NYC, will hold a free theatre performance and book signing with author Angie Sage on Tuesday, April 30th beginning at 4 PM (18 West 18th Street, between 5th and 6th Aves in Manhattan).

Fyre, the seventh and final book in the Septimus Heap series, was published last week to enthusiastic fan reception. Often compared with Harry Potter and other works of fantasy for middle grade readers, the series follows the adventures of Septimus Heap, who as a seventh son of a seventh son has extraordinary magical powers. An original fantasy about lost and rediscovered identities, magyk and intrigue, and one family’s warmth and strength, the series has appeared on national bestseller lists and garnered worldwide acclaim; Warner Bros. has acquired the rights to make a movie of the first book.

To celebrate the book’s release, local literary-based acting troupe The Story Pirates (www.storypirates.org) will introduce new readers to the series by performing scenes from the first book, Magyk!

Also in attendance will be the series’ author, Angie Sage. Following the performance Ms. Sage will meet with fans and sign copies of all of her books.

The event will begin at 4PM and is open to the public.


Alert: Discount on Septimus Heap books in month of April! Support local business!

April 12, 2013

CORRECTION (4/15) – THE DISCOUNT CODE IS “OVERSTRAND” (which makes more sense), not “OVERSTREET” as I originally reported.  Sorry.  I got misinformation.  I’ll definitely be at Books of Wonder on 4/16 for my copy!  

New Yorkers: If your child is as excited as mine is about the new Septimus Heap book Fyre coming out this April 16, you might be interested in this discount at local, independent bookseller Books of Wonder on 18th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.  It’s good for the whole month of April and on all Septimus Heap books.  In store only…

The last volume of the Septimus Heap series is almost here – come to Books of Wonder and celebrate with us!

 Fyre, the seventh and final book in the series, will be released on April 16th. To celebrate, Books of Wonder is offering a special 10% discount on ALL Septimus Heap titles in the month of April! To claim the discount, simply mention the code word, “OVERSTREET, OVERSTRAND” to the cashier at checkout! It’s like Magyk! **Offer valid in-store only.**

Web: BooksofWonder.com
BOW Blog: BooksofWonder.com/Blog
Email: Store@Booksofwonder.com
Phone: (212)989-3270


Great books for early middle schooler?

January 30, 2013

I love the New York Public Library and get most of the book recommendations for my son from the wonderful librarians they employ.  My son is just finishing up the exciting fantasy adventure series Septimus Heap.  He is reading the 6th book Darkeand the last volume Fyre comes April 16th, 2013.  Today, I asked Rebecca, a (Super Awesome) librarian at Jefferson Market, to give me recommendations on what to read next, based on my son’s enjoyment of Septimus Heap and similar books.  She suggested:

  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson and Greg Call – (we are now on book 3 – AWESOME)
  • Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney, Patrick Arrasmith (came with “it’s spooky and very dark” warning)
  • Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas, Antonio Javier Caparo
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (not a series, it’s a standalone book – I have read this, and it’s pretty good!)
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio (not a series, it’s a standalone book, and apparently, it’s AMAZING, it was the NAIBA Book of the Year 2012 for Middle Readers) – (I have since read this, and it made me cry.  Great book, very touching.)

Also, see a past post about The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy, which is another great book for the 8 – 12 year olds in your life.  We all read this as a family and loved it!

UPDATE 5/29/13: The Books of Umber Trilogy, starting with Happenstance Found by P.W. Cantanese.  I am reading these (just finished book 2 – Dragon Games) and loving them!  Great fantasy action/adventure with good world-building (with some darkness and evil to keep it interesting), for 9-12 year olds!  Strongly recommended!

UPDATE 7/1/14: Dead End in Norvelt and From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos are well-written, funny books, and great for kids (especially boys) in the 10-13 age range.  However, they have “A Christmas Story”-esque humor, so it can get a bit inappropriate, a little old fashioned (in the best way possible) and there are guns in the story (I know a lot of people who are sensitive about mentions of guns in kid stories, thus the warning).


Good book for 8 year olds?

March 16, 2012

Aside from the typical answer of Harry Potter (which was AMAZING), my family absolutely loved The Ordinary Boy series (obviously, start with book one). I reviewed book three in the series.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy, Book 3: The Great Powers Outage (Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy)The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy, Book 3: The Great Powers Outage by William Boniface
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant. Simply brilliant. The Great Powers Outage was my favorite of the Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy series, of which this is the third (and latest) book. To my knowledge, Book 4 is not yet out, nor do I know if it is in development. However, I can tell you that everyone in my house is eagerly awaiting it.

In this episode, everyone in Superopolis loses their power. It’s up to Ordinary Boy to figure out what happened and how (and if!) to fix it. The plot refers to elements in Books 1 (The Hero Revealed) and 2 (The Return of Meteor Boy?), which makes for a very satisfying read. While not as technically complex as the non-linearity and recursiveness of Book 2, The Great Powers Outage was richly layered, with the peripheral stories of the class election (an indictment of the American political process, minus any ideology or dogma) as well as the tale of the founding of Superopolis and the origins of The Li’l Hero’s Handbook. The book was also a simplistic, but very effective lesson in cause and effect, especially regarding correlation vs. causality. In spite of more pronounced destruction of evil compared to Books 1 and 2, no villain (or government) took a worse beating than Pringle’s Potato Chips (very thinly disguised as “Pseudo Chips” in the book), in my humble opinion.

I feel that this series is perfect for ages 8 to adulthood. Yes, I would recommend it for adults, too. It’s well-written, irreverent, smart (not dumbed down at all) and is entertaining on many levels. Children can enjoy the books and still miss many of the more sophisticated references or underlying meanings. But the humor is solid even without these.

Notable:

p 131 (O-Boy is disappointed with his teacher’s level of ambivalence and his classmate’s lack of curiosity):

“I’m not trying to put anyone down.” I insisted. “I’m just trying to get answers. Isn’t the whole point of school to seek out knowledge?”

“Not particularly,” Miss Marble responded gloomily. “I’m afraid the point of school isn’t so much about learning things as it is learning not to say things that irritate other people.”

“But how else do we gain knowledge?” I asked. “Shouldn’t we always be asking questions and trying to use what we discover to make life better?”

“You’re free to do all that” — Miss Marble nodded — “as long as you don’t upset anyone in the process or challenge any of their beliefs.”

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Also, see this more recent post on great books for early middle schoolers.


What is Gandalf’s last name?

June 13, 2011

Stormcrow.


Best show for children?

May 24, 2011

Avatar: The Last Airbender (the TV show, NOT the movie). It was on Nickelodeon, is pretty much in constant re-runs, is out on DVD, and is available for instant streaming on Netflix.  I would say it’s good for children around 7 and up, and grown-ups might like it too (my husband and I both loved it).  There is some violence, as there is a war going on during the series, but there are wonderful lessons about friendship, kindness, choosing peace over violence, listening to your inner voice, working hard, determination, forgiveness, protecting the earth and love.  It really helps to watch it in order, and to make sure you see the entire series (there are three seasons).

I cannot say enough good things about this television show.  In fact, I would like to say thank you to Michael Dante DiMartinoBryan Konietzko, everyone that worked on the project, including Nickelodeon for putting this series out.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I hope my son will carry the lessons of Avatar: The Last Airbender with him for the rest of his life.  Also, as if all that wasn’t enough, there are fabulous chapter books that summarize the series, and are at a reading level of around 6-9.  Here is my review of one of them: Earth Kingdom Chronicles: The Tale of Aang.

 


Great parenting book?

May 18, 2011

NurtureShockNurtureShock by Po Bronson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nurture Shock was the best parenting book I’ve ever read. Admittedly, I haven’t read many. I don’t tend to like them, but I have read a few. On the cover, there is a quote from Good Morning America which calls the book “The Freakonomics of child rearing…”, with which I completely agree. If you liked the way Freakonomics challenged conventional wisdom (and conservative wisdom – ZING!) with science presented as a fast-paced, quippy narrative, then this book is for you. So, why didn’t I give it five stars? I gave it four stars because I felt there should have been more recommendations, given how many fascinating findings there were. However, I don’t think that recommendations were necessarily the goal the authors had in mind. Overall, I really liked the book, it challenged my way of thinking about children in some ways and reinforced things I believed on my own that are unpopular (such as Baby Einstein videos and “educational programming” for very young children is more than a waste of time, it is BAD).

Here are the brief version of my notes from this book (please don’t let having a list of takeaways discourage you from reading the book, because I think this is a VERY important book for parents to read and the notes below don’t even come close to capturing the most important points of the book):

1. Don’t EVER tell a child he is smart.

2. Praise has to be incredibly specific, and based on the child’s efforts.

3. Kids need more sleep than they usually get. Not having enough sleep messes up everyone’s brains, but in kids, it is exponentially worse.

4. Don’t let the sleep schedule slide on weekends.

5. Take a specific and proactive approach to discussing race with your child. Platitudes such as “everyone is equal” are useless at best. Talk about skin color specifically and how people discriminate based on that and why that, specifically, is wrong.

6. Effective lying demonstrates a specific kind of intelligence. Children often lie just to please their parents.

7. Intelligence testing / testing for gifted programs prior to second grade is completely, utterly useless and is far more likely to identify the wrong children as advanced at early ages.

8. Ignoring the fights between siblings is a really bad idea.

9. If your teenager argues with you, it’s probably a good thing.

10. You can teach a kid to have self control and focus, even at fairly young ages (such as kindergarten). How I wish my son went through the “TOOLS” curriculum they so lovingly discuss in chapter 8.

11. Watching Arthur will most likely cause more aggression in children than watching Power Rangers. Baby Einstein is not just useless, it’s often detrimental to a very young child’s vocabulary development.

12. Having a zero tolerance toward bullying and other acts of aggression is most likely ineffective and can cause some unwanted and unexpected results.

13. Talking to your baby is not as important as reacting appropriately and correctly to his attempts at vocalization.

14. Babies cannot learn language from any sort of recorded medium.

15. I loved learning about the “Hedonic Treadmill” theory, which was explained on page 228 as “… we have to keep working hard just to stay in in the same relative place in society. Even when our situation improves, the sense of achievement is only temporary, because our hedonistic desires and expectations rise at the same rate as our circumstances.” This means “…lottery winners are not any happier, long-term, than non-winners…”

16. Trying to get a child younger than 12 to do a gratitude journal in order to help them realize how lucky they are and how much they have to be thankful for can really freaking bite you in the ass. Don’t do that.

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