Fairies: Some magical reading fun

Reading before bed is still one of our favorite Chocolate Cake Moments as a family. No matter how bad our day was, we all look forward to cleaning up, relaxing on the bed, sharing an adventure, and giggling. We love to read about magic, goofy animals, fun adventures, and kids solving problems. The kids love books that make them laugh. I especially love books with beautiful, fun illustrations. I lust after the talent to draw, which passed me by. Darn you, genetics!

Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies Book
This week we got two books from the library about fairies. The first, The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies by Ammi-Joan Paquette is a beautiful book about how to spot fairies in nature. If your child loves Fairy Houses or hunting for Gnomes, this book is for you. The book mixes photography and cute illustrations of fairies that can be found out in your yard. It give instructions on how and where to look for clues that fairies are around. It will spark the imagination of any child (or magic-loving adult) into building a fairy house, right now! Suited for kids under 10 years old. In a previous post, I talked about making it a Family Tradition to build a fairy house or troll garden. (We love all things magical and non-sensical.)

Gone with the Wand children’s book
The second book is a silly book about a fairy godmother who has lost her mojo. Gone with the Wand by Margie Palatini, is a clever book about reinventing yourself and finding new passion. (OK, maybe the kids won’t get that take-away, but adults will.) The kids will love the richly-colored, silly illustrations by Brian Ajhar, as the Toothfairy helps the Fairy Godmother to discover a new purpose in life. Kids will love her new passion and it is the perfect book to read before tucking into bed. I would say kids 4-10 would appreciate this book most.

Have fun reading! Please share your favorite bedtime stories with us. We are always looking for new books to get at the library. (I think we’ve read almost everything there already. We need help. Really.)

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Tags: Cool Finds · Reading with the Kids

How to Get Your Kids out of the House This Summer

After being cooped up all winter, everybody is anxious to get out and enjoy the outdoors again. Liberated of our heavy winter coats, it’s hard not to feel happier, lighter, and more energetic. The longer days and warmer nights are terrific opportunities to get out of the house and enjoy nature again.

As a parent with two kids of my own, I’ve discovered that summer can be as challenging for adults as it is liberating for kids. Once the charm of sleeping in wears off, I know it’s not long before I’m hearing the dreaded refrain of “Mommy, I’m bored!” Even if they go to summer day camp, the novelty of an unstructured day will eventually wear off, too.

In my experience, preparation is the best way to avoid the B-word. With a little creativity and planning, you can stockpile an arsenal of fun activities to throw at your kids before they can even say “bored.” None of these activities should include sitting in front of the computer, video game, or television; the whole idea is to get them outside and enjoying the sunshine while it lasts (giving you a little well-deserved space in the process).

Here are just a few outdoor activities to get you started:

1. Invest in the Super Parachute Kids Party Game. Kids love parachutes, and I’ll bet all the neighborhood Moms will love you for having this super-fun game!
Super Parachute Kids Party Game

2. Camp out in the backyard – pitch a tent, grab some sleeping bags, pillows, flashlights (and bug spray!). If you have a fire pit, do it up right with some S’mores.

3. Most libraries have a summer reading program, so take advantage of it. Walk to the local library to check out some fabulous summer reading. Then, set up outdoor reading stations in the backyard with umbrellas, beach towels, and frozen grapes to snack on.

4. Organize Family or Neighborhood Olympics that includes events like hula hoop competition, 3-legged races, water balloon toss, or egg and spoon races (you can buy an Egg and Spoon Race Game and save yourself an eggy yard or kid).
Egg and Spoon Race Game

5. Set up a miniature golf course right in your own backyard. The Mini Golf Set has everything you need to get your toddler’s golf career started (or just to keep the little ones occupied for a few hours).
Mini Golf Set

Share your favorite activities that get your kids out of the house and having fun.

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Tags: Cool Finds · Family Celebrations · Games · Reading with the Kids

Car Trip Entertainment for Kids

We recently took a road trip to visit family and found some great audio books and recordings to amuse the kids while we were driving … always important. (City kids can only look at cows for so long before they are bored.) We went to the library and got some audio books and a Bill Harley CD. Our criteria for road trip entertainment is that it has to amuse Mom and Dad too or it’s off. When the kids watch their DVDs in the back they use headphones, so us adults can listen to something else up front. I’d like to say it’s because we like more high-brow entertainment but really it’s because we get frustrated that we can hear the movie and not see it. “Ooh, is this where Alex the Lion starts dance fighting?” It’s better for everyone if we aren’t constantly looking behind us while we drive.

So, when we listen to an audio book or CD, everyone in the car hears it and must be amused. Here are some picks that we loved from our recent trip.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
This story is magical! Both the adults and kids in the car were captivated and the narration is fantastic. The book had been recommended to us because the author, Brian Selznick, had created such magical illustrations. So we thought we might lose something by listening to it as opposed to reading it. However, having listened to the audio book and then seen the book after our car trip, I think it was better for us to imagine the story for a more personal experience. It is the story of an orphaned boy who lives a secret life in a Train Station Clock Tower and how he discovers the secrets of his father’s inventions. Cool!
For ages: 5 – 99 years old

Chet Gecko, Private Eye by Bruce Hale
I admit, I love a good mystery and I am a huge fan of the Film Noir and Hard-Boiled Detective movies and stories. Who doesn’t love the witty banter from Dashiell Hammett (Thin Man, Sam Spade) or Raymond Chandler (Phillip Marlowe)? Fortunately, we can now introduce this genre to our kids with Chet Gecko. We love the Chet Gecko books about a kid detective, a lizard in the fourth-grade, who solves crimes at his wacky school. While the books are great and we like to read them at bedtime, the audiobooks are awesome because they are read by Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), who can do so many distinct voices and act the parts so well. While younger kids may have a hard time with the metaphors and witty banter, they will enjoy the main story, voices and silly slapstick in the books.
For ages: 5 – 99 years old

Yes to Running: Bill Harley Live
We recently discovered Bill Harley while listening to NPR one day. We were laughing so hard we almost peed our pants. Immediately, my husband and I asked “Why haven’t we heard of this guy?” When you have kids, you become very familiar with Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes, Ralph’s World, and Justin Roberts. But Bill Harley, who? The only reasons I can think of are that his material is for children over 5 years old and I guess the “famous” kid musicians are for the pre-school set. And, although he has songs and plays the guitar, he is more of a storyteller than a musician. However, Bill Harley deserves more fame! (Now, you may be at home saying, “I’ve known about Bill Harley for years. What rock have you been living under?” If that is the case, I’m glad for Bill Harley but don’t burst my bubble.)

Go buy the Yes to Running: Bill Harley Live Double CD! My kids have now played it for everyone they come into contact with. (The mailman won’t come near the house anymore.) Bill Harley totally understands kids and how adults like to fondly remember their childhood. The Great Sled Race is a hilarious story. The Ballad of Dirty Joe the pirate is definitely written for kids.

These types of storytelling CDs are great for car trips because some of the stories are 20 minutes long and you need the uninterrupted time to listen.

For ages: 5 – 99 years old. Caution: He does say words like “Stupid” and “Idiot” (only in reference to himself) but if that bothers you, don’t let the younger kids listen.

© 2009 Sue Kirchner

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Tags: Reading with the Kids · Traveling with the Family

Winter Family Vacation in Boston

Family in Boston HotelAfter visiting family in New Hampshire for the Holidays, we took the kids to Boston for a family vacation and we wanted to share some of the highlights of the trip. Boston is a much better trip in spring, summer, or fall but we know how to have fun in the snow and thought we’d share our winter travel ideas.

We knew that we were going to do a lot of history-related sightseeing in Boston so to get the kids warmed up and interested before we left, our bedtime reading was John, Paul, George and Ben. This book is one of the kids favorites since it is a pretty funny and irreverent look at our country’s founders. What’s not to like?

We planned for 3 days in Boston and we arrived on New Years Eve and it was freezing and snowing. Boston offers some New Years Eve fun with an event called First Night. For kids, they offer all kinds of entertainment for families during the day with a Mardi Gras style parade in the evening. We enjoyed seeing some of the magic and puppet acts. The parade was pretty weak but then again it was snowing and about 10 degrees out so I think it was really toned down a notch. The kids were too cold to enjoy.

The next day, after watching the Iowa Hawkeyes football bowl game in the hotel room (which the kids loved), we ventured out into the cold to see the Boston Commons and Garden. Boston’s Frog Pond

We saw the ultra brave people ice skating on frog pond and the obligatory sculpture dedicated to the popular children’s book Make Way for Ducklings. Make Way for Ducklings Statue

We looked at some of the beautiful old houses on Beacon and Charles Street before deciding it was too gosh darn cold and headed for the Children’s Museum. While our kids are getting a little too old for these children’s museums, they really enjoyed the Blue Man Group, Bubble, and Make Your Own Sailboat exhibits. If your kids are under the age of 5 you could probably spend the day here. With older kids (9 and 6 years old) we were done in under two hours.

We then headed over to the North End and Pizza Regina, which rocked. This restaurant is hilarious. It is small, so you will end up standing outside. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait more than 15 minues in the cold. You had better know what you want to order by the time you get close to the door or you will get kicked out of line. However, this restaurant is everything a typical family Italian place should be, with wacky waitresses. The pizza was very good and for Boston, the price is perfect. Mangia!

We watched a movie in the hotel room to finish the day, which the kids thought was too cool.

The next day we hit the Freedom Trail. The kids loved this slice of history. I was so proud that they walked almost the whole trail in the cold without complaining. Of course, a few trips to some gift shops along the way helped to motivate them. We also added our typical family wackiness by since my husband and son were dancing down the street singing “Freedom” by George Michael. The Freedom Trail is marked with a red line down the sidewalk so you can easily follow. To add even more silliness to the proceedings, we started to mimic Monty Python’s “Minister of Silly Walks” skit. You know where you walk in a line and do the funniest walks you can think up. Sure, people stared at us. Did we care? NO! We’ll never see them again. (I hope.)

According to the kids, the highlights of the Freedom Trail were Paul Revere’s House, the graveyard with Ben Franklin, Mother Goose, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams graves, and the Old North Church. They were totally fascinated by the whole “One if by Land, Two if by Sea” thing. Paul Revere’s statueThey also thought it was hilarious that John Hancock has the largest tombstone in the cemetery, just like his signature. (Was he compensating for something?) Definitely hit the bakeries in the North End for a great snack and warm-up break. You can’t go wrong ordering any of the pastries.

There’s a lot more you can do in Boston in the summer but we had a great time in the cold and snow. Have you taken a family vacation in Boston? If so, what were some of your highlights? Please share.

© 2009 Sue Kirchner

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Tags: Reading with the Kids · Traveling with the Family

Start a Family Holiday Tradition – Adopt an Elf

Family traditions are so important, especially around the Holidays. Traditions help to bring the Holiday season alive for our family. They help us laugh and smile when things get a little hectic. So, let me share a cool product with you that will help you create a Family Holiday Tradition. We discovered the Elf on the Shelf Book a few years ago and it is a huge hit at our house.

If you’ve never heard of Elf on the Shelf, let me share. With the kit, you get a retro-designed Elf doll and a book. The Elf has a job to do, as the book explains. He sits in your house during the day and then at night, he flies back to Santa to report on who has been naughty and who has been nice. (Parents, that includes you too.) A spy in the house! Why would kids like that? But, here’s the fun part. When the Elf comes back in the morning, he sits in a different part of the house. It is the ultimate hide and seek game. Our kids wake up every morning and run around the house trying to be the first to find the Elf.
Christy and Elf on the Shelf

To help you make this into a tradition, your family will adopt and name this special Elf. Ours is named Jack. (I wanted Cornelius but the kids overruled me.) The book includes a page where you can write in the Elf’s name and date he was adopted into your family so it becomes a family keepsake. We love this particular Elf because it reminds my husband and I of the ones our Grandmothers used to have in their houses. The Elf has a bendable body so that he can sit around the house in all kinds of cool places. Even if your kids no longer believe in Santa, they will still love the hide and seek game. Your kids can even take turns hiding the Elf to see who is the master hider in the house.

A word of warning to parents. If you forget to move the Elf one night, you had better come up with a pretty good reason why he is still in the same spot. The first time you forget to move him you can always claim that he was trying to be tricky and fool the kids by not moving. After that, you had better be creative. I have to write myself a sticky note to remember to move the Elf at night because last year I forgot two nights in a row. My daughter was distraut! She thought that the Elf had lost his magic and how was Santa going to know she was good. Oh, the drama! My bad, bad, bad! So, I had my daughter write a letter to Santa asking him to give Jack his magic back. We went to the post office and “mailed” it. It worked, and Christmas was saved. Whew! (That should be a Christmas TV special.)

You can really have fun with your Elf. We put ours out the morning after Thanksgiving, even though the kids start asking for him in August. You can have him create some mischief around the house – move presents, decorations, etc. Or we put crumbs around him one night so that it looks like he ate some Christmas cookies. Put some fake snow on him in the morning to show how he rushed home from the North Pole.

If you have an Elf on the Shelf, I’d love to hear what your family named him. Tell us also what excuses you’ve used it he forgot to move and what else you do to have fun with the Elf.

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Tags: Family Celebrations · Holiday Traditions · Reading with the Kids

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