With Easy Activities and Lesson Plans
Yesterday I wrote about my disappointment in the article written by Elizabeth DeMeo, 10 Scary Books for Kids to Avoid at Bedtime. It is time for me to put my money where my mouth is and describe my list of 5 books that I have loved to read with my kids – and why they may become your favorites, too. As the eternal teacher and homeschooler, I’ve included some lesson plan ideas, activities, and extensions to help make these books come alive for you and your kids (which is why my list is just 5 this time around).
1. The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The first book in a series is usually the best, and while the first one in this series is a favorite, the rest do not disappoint. The chapters are short, there are minimal pictures (which gives them exercise for the brain), and the setting is decades ago in America.
- Great for preschool and older (my 9-year-old and preschooler both loved it when we read the series)
- Elements of suspense – orphaned siblings run away together so they aren’t separated, create a home in an abandoned boxcar, and are eventually reunited with family they didn’t know they had
- Great discussion opportunities for safety, decision making, survival in the woods, etc. (but in a very tame environment)
- Visit a train station, take a ride on a train, or look to your local historical society for information about trains (our town has a miniature replica in the local museum)
2. Poetry by Shel Silverstein
My parents read Shel Silverstein to me, and as a child in the hospital recovering from knee surgery his poems kept me smiling. The classic poems are funny, touching, whimsical, and sometimes on the edge of appropriate (which is probably why kids love them so!). Look for titles such as Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and The Giving Tree – but any of his collections will become your favorite.
- Appropriate for all ages – the rhythmic rhyming was a favorite of my babies and toddlers as these poems were like spoken songs.
- Silly and wonderful illustrations stretch the themes of the poems.
- Have kids find the rhyming words and experiment with their own poems.
3. The First of Octember by Dr. Seuss
This whimsical story by Dr Seuss is appropriate for all ages, and my children grew up on the silly rhymes and premise of the book – there is no such month as Octember. Now that the kids are older, if they ask for something or want to know when something will happen, we often joke that is will be on the 1st of Octember, as the story pokes fun at a day and month that doesn’t exist.
- Use this story with younger children as you teach them about the months of the year. Write down the 12 correct months of the year on 24 notecards (2 of each), and then write down Octember on the 25th one. You can play Old Month (version of Old Maid) and the Octember card is the Old Month.
- Talk about things you wish you could do but likely wouldn’t happen until the 1st of Octember (never) – and let your imaginations run wild. Your list might be go back to 3rd grade, become an international spy stationed at the International House of Pancakes, etc.
4. Arnie, the Doughnut by Laurie Keller
Even for older kids and kids at heart this storybook is a hoot. The idea is that doughnuts are alive and one particular doughnut named Arnie isn’t so sure he wants to be eaten. The illustrations and side comments throughout the pictures are what make this storybook a treasure. It took our family several times of reading through to pick up on all of the jokes, silly sidebars, and extra story lines.
- Arnie’s goal was to find a way to not be eaten. Make a list with your kids of all the things Arnie could do as a doughnut instead of being eaten (Arnie comes up with a partial list in the book).
- Get an old fashioned recipe and make your own.
- And of course – go to the bakery and buy some doughnuts!
5. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and Ronald Barrett
I mentioned this one in yesterday’s article and it bears repeating. The town of Chewandswallow is a fantastical place where weather in the form of food supplies rains down on the town – first in wonderful supplies, then in stormy seas on gravy and ginormous pancakes. Great for all ages!
- Make and serve giant food. I surprised my kids by baking a pizza-sized cookie and leaving it on the doorstep. Then I feigned a knock and they went running to answer the door and find their treat.
- Study weather together. Make a rain gauge and record rain for a month or longer and then chart it. Visit your local television station for a tour and see if you can check out the “green screen” – our kids got to sit in on the newscast as well.
- Watch the cartoon movie – which is different from the book – but a great way to compare storylines and favorite parts of each.
- Don’t forget to follow up Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs with Pickles to Pittsburgh (by the same authors).
Keep reading to your kids long past the preschool years. We love exploring books together as a family – from my husband’s childhood collection of Encyclopedia Brown adventures to the Bible to the Hobbit. My husband sometimes takes the boys and has guy reading time, and my daughter and I will snuggle for a good read – sometimes taking turns. Just keep reading. What is favorite on your bookshelf?