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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Maximizing Library Trips with Your Kids

Successful library trips seem like they are always just beyond my reach. I have felt this way since I just had one little baby toting along to the library with me. Now I have a 12, 9, and 5 year-old

in tow each visit. We're now homeschooling, and we're now consistently visiting the library once a week.

One of my main goals for the year is to teach my children how to use the library effectively: how to find what they are interested in, use the computer catalog, utilize services, be excited about their book choices, and just appreciate the library.

We are tackling this goal in small chunks. Each week we do a little library mission together before heading our separate ways to find our personal books and play on the computer. Well actually, we have only just begun working on this goal, so we've only done one little mission to date (finding books on the human body), but the plan is for this to happen every week.

I also want my kids to be more invested in their library book choices. I often feel like they are just choosing things off the shelf willy-nilly so I will let them go play on the computers (mostly my boys). I have struggled with how to get them to care more about the books they are choosing, and with how to teach them that there are better ways to find a book you really like.

So we are doing a couple other new things in addition to our weekly library missions. I have filled up the home computer bookmark bar with Goodreads, Amazon, our library computer catalog, Bookseer, etc. I am trying to arm them with some easy-to-access tools for finding stuff they want to read. I am also showing them book trailers every week. These are totally new to them, and they can't get enough. After each trailer they all exclaim, "Let's read THAT book!" Every one. Well done, Book Trailer Producers!

And we are doing Library Show and Tell when we get home from every visit. Everybody gathers together with their library bags in hand and we show each other a couple books we picked out and tell why we chose them. I also plan to have us gather before our next visit to the library and give an update on our book choices  (Did we finish the books we chose, why or why not? Would you recommend it to  friends? etc.)

I'll keep you posted with how this goes. And in the meantime, let me know in the comments how you manage library trips with your kiddos. Let's share our tips and tricks!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tips for Managing Screen Time

Sitting mindlessly in front of the TV or video games for endless amounts of time has been a problem we have been battling in our house for a few years now. Some of my kids would literally sit in front of a screen all day of you let them. Yes. They really would.

We have employed various strategies to help put limits of the screen time. And might I just comment on how the term "screen time" keeps growing to include more and more devices and avenues for our kids to participate. In our house we have an array of devices the kids like to use. Most of them are "family devices," but our oldest has an iPod that she bought with her own money. It's a lot to try to monitor and limit.

But limiting screen time is something I'm willing to battle over in our family. Did you know that studies show that after 10 hours of screen time per week, children's grades begin to decline? It's not so much about the screens themselves being bad for our kids, it's the things they're not doing while they're spending all that time in front of the screens that becomes a problem. They're not playing, imagining, creating, building friendships, reading, helping out around the house, discovering hobbies... (The Read Aloud Handbook)

Here's what we have found that is working for us:

For summer or weekends:

1 TV show or thirty minutes of screen time in the morning.

1 hour of screen time after lunch (while I take a nap).

1 show or thirty minutes of screen time in the evening.

School days:

1 hour of screen time after lunch (while I take a nap).

1 show or thirty minutes of screen time in the evening.

I let my kids carry unused screen time over to the next day if they want. But their max is 2 hours in front of a screen at one sitting, and they can only carry over hours from ONE day. 

We have only been using this system for a few weeks now, and it was a bumpy start. I was getting a lot of comments from the kids like, "OH, I thought I turned on the TV at 12:30, not 12:00. Oops!" or "I thought you were going to tell me when my time was up." There was a refusal to take any responsibility for keeping track of their time. I was so frustrated about it all that I was looking into devices that attach to your TV or video game systems and keep track of viewing time for you.  But they were expensive and each device could only attach to one unit, it didn't seem like a viable option for our situation.

Then I saw these little timers (pictured at top pf this post) on Amazon. They seemed like they might do the trick. They sit on a base, and you set the timers on the base, not on the timer themselves. Then the timer can be put on your wrist (there's a strap), or clipped on your pants and taken wherever. The timer buzzes on both the timer itself as well as the base. So my kids don't have to watch the clock and keep track of their minutes, but they are getting a sense of how much time they are actually sitting in front of the TV. And I don't have to nag. They can ask for a timer when they want to use their screen time, and they know it's time to turn it off when the buzzer buzzes. 

The other day one of my kids said that the new time limits were helping them not want to watch so much TV anymore. And it seems to me this is indeed true. I gave them one free day this week before school starts, and told them they didn't need to use the timers or anything; a couple of them turned the TV off themselves after a bit and went outside. This isn't to say there wasn't complaining at the beginning. I was told it wasn't fair and wasn't enough "tiiiiimmmme" multiple times. 

I'm sure this is no fool proof system. And the timers we bought got mixed reviews, sounds like they sometimes stop working after only a short bit. Of course, other kinds of timers could work as well, I just like that I can keep track of the kids' time at the same time as them, and they can't screw up much of anything on the timers while using them.

I have no affiliation with the maker of these timers featured, and I'm not being paid to write this post.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ideas for Summer Book Fun!

Can I show you what we've been doing in class this past month? I can't believe I will be trading the preschool classroom for the homeschool classroom. It feels very weird, but exciting. And I'm thrilled that I will get to invest more time and energy into creating fun and meaningful literature experiences for my little guy AND my older kids!

I am also scheming to continue visiting my beloved schools for some special story times throughout the year so I don't suffer any terrible withdrawal effects!

So here's the fun we've been having this past month:

We had so much fun reading Chalk (Bill Thomson)! Huge hit with the kids. Oh, the fun they had imagining what it would be like to have their chalk drawings come to life! So much imagining and pretending. We drew with "magic" chalk of our own and pretended our drawings came to life. The students begged me to reread this one all month long!

Blackout (John Rocco) was another hit! I felt like this story was my son's own personal story: a boy wants to play a game with someone, but everybody in his family is too wrapped up in their technology to be bothered. Then the power goes out. Suddenly life slows down, the family comes together to have fun and pass the time during the blackout.  I think all modern kids can likely identify with this story! We turned out the lights after we read the story and made shadow puppets like they did in the story. My students were amazed by this. Then we took a picture of a city with the lights on, and turned the lights back on with our neon paints! Again, amazement from the students! And the pictures turned out so cool! Even my big kids had fun with this project when I came home with the extra supplies. We read the book around our kitchen table quite a few times!

Like Chalk, Walrus (Stephen Savage) is a wordless book. A Walrus escapes from the zoo and must hide form the zookeeper. He discovers his passion and finds a way to fulfill it while remaining at the zoo, so all ends well. The kids just crack up at the silly places the walrus hides and tries to disguise himself. So simple, but so entertaining! I brought little walruses, made out of craft foam, for us to hunt for in the classroom. Who would have thought the kids would love this so much? We also made pictures where the kids had to illustrate a way to disguise their foam walrus. Many of them took their inspiration from the book and made scenes similar to Savage. But some came up with some new ides of their own. When we finished crafting, they all wanted to take turns hiding the walruses around the room again. So if you're looking for a way to keep some preschoolers busy - hide some walruses! Ha!