Browsing Category: school

Day 7: What Happens in Book Club, Stays in Book Club

Admit it: We all think clubs are kind-of cool.

Even those of us who may act like they do not think clubs are cool, find some sort of anti-club to join. (thus joining a club)

Being a part of something gives us a sense of belonging. It gives us a cause to believe in. It provides a way for us to connect.

If one were to flip through my senior yearbook, it may be noted that I was a member of quite a few clubs. This was in no way because I was terribly interested in any of the club’s misson statements nor because I felt strongly about a particular issue.

Instead my membership was solely based on two things:

1. Getting my picture in the yearbook a lot.

2. Being with my friends.

Encouraging your child to have an interest in books can be as easy as starting a family book club. Family book clubs can look a variety of ways, depending on the age and reading level of participants. Younger children can share a book with mommy and daddy and then talk about it afterwards. Perhaps an extension activity such as drawing a picture about the story or making a craft to go along with the book happens after reading together.

Older kids and parents can read books separately and then come together to discuss them. My husband and son have done this on several occasions. They read the same book and then talk about it (or giggle over it, in the case of this series).  Older kids can also do a project to go along with their book, such as making a lapbook or creating a diorama (yes…for fun and not for a grade.)

Creating a book club that meets at a particular time (even if that meeting occurs around the dinner table on a regular ol Tuesday) is a fabulous way to encourage children to read.

Some great starter books include:

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf (extension activities found here)

Berenstain Bear books (these are great for non-readers because they open up lots of topics for discussion)

Little House on the Prairie Series

The Invention of Hugo Cabret  (Husband and son did this one last winter)

My Father’s Dragon (Husband and son doing this series right now)


Does your family have a book club? If so, what are some things you do to make book club fun and interesting?




Day 3: Set the Example (31 Days towards a love of reading)

One of the most humbling aspects of being a parent is when you hear your words come out of your child’s mouth.

And those words are not pretty.

These words are not the standard off-limit four letter words. They are not swear words. Rather they are words of impatience, grumpiness and frustration. Ugh.

Such times leaving me running for my copy of “Power of a Postive Mom” and attempting my best impersonation of June Cleaver’s even tones.

These times also remind me that little ones are constantly watching my actions and words so they can follow my lead.

Fortunately, children do not merely hone in on our negative traits and copy them for all the world to see. They also pick up on our positive qualities, which can be a significant key to getting children to love reading. One of the best ways to get kids interested in books is to set the example.

Here is my nightstand

Obviously I have yet to embrace the e-reader)

OObviously we love us a good book around here.

Because we are both avid readers, our children see us quite often with a book of some sort in our hands. The husband is particularly good about telling the kids about what he is reading. He pulls out something interesting to share with them from his book. Regardless of the genre of book (business to science fiction…and everything in between), both children become really interested in the fact shared.

Set the reading example for your children. Turn off the TV, stop cleaning up the kitchen for the 7th time that day (have I mentioned that my seven year old somehow managed to have the world’s worst apple juice spill with only a 1/4 cup of juice the other morning? It was on the wall, the window, the baseboards and the floor. Sigh.) and sit down to read. Do not wait for little ones to be tucked in for the evening. Read now while they are awake and happily playing (even if “happily playing” only lasts about five minutes as it does in my house some days).

You will all be inspired.


This is a part of a “31 Series” hosted by The Nester 

Day 2: Seasonal Books (31 Days towards Igniting a Love of Reading)

Tomorrow a cold front is predicted to roll through our area. By Saturday, high temperatures will be in the lower 50’s.

The boots in my closet just did a happy dance.

When you live in a place that could quite possibly see 100 degrees on Halloween (It has happened, people, and it was not pretty), experiencing brisk temperatures early in the Fall is a blessing.

When such weather rolls around, I want to just gather my family together and breathe in the season. Bring on the pumpkins and chili and hot apple cider.

As parents, we all attempt in our own little ways to make the coming and going of seasons fun and exciting for children. Some may go all out and create holiday countdown boards while others scoop up some seasonal donuts and call it a day. A great way to welcome and appreciate the changing of seasons is through books.

Over the years, we have collected a large amount of seasonal books: Back to School books, Halloween Books, Easter books, Valentines Books, etc. Our Christmas book collection has become so crazy that it has a a large plastic bin all its own that lives in the attic eleven months out of the year.

The other books are all housed together in a storage bucket until their season arrives. When a special time comes around (for example: Halloween), the kids and I dig through the seasonal books and pull the appropriate titles. Every year this task is exciting because we see some favorites and also discover some forgotten titles. These seasonal books are put in a bucket by our fireplace where they can be enjoyed for the entire month.

Having a seasonal bucket of books in the main living space of one’s home encourages kids to flip through books on their own. Who doesn’t feel inspired when brisk air is swirling all around the window outside and a tasty treat and a great book are readily available?

Want to ignite a love of reading in your child? Gather up some books about Fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving and place them in a bucket in the living room. Toss in a comfy blanket and a soft pillow and your little ones are ready to explore the wonders of the season in their own living room.


This post is a part of an ongoing “31 Series”. For more like this, check out The Nester


31 Days to Igniting a Love for Reading (Day One: Make it Fun)

Whenever I take my children into their yearly well visit with our pediatrician, one of the questions she always asks is “Are you reading to your children at least 30 minutes a day?”

Great question, huh?

It is also one that can make us feel a ping of mom guilt when we realize that maybe Dora is doing a bit more entertaining than that stack of books from the library that seems to be gathering dust. 

Reading aloud to kids is a great way to ignite a love of reading. Because we homeschool, we have several times set aside during our day where I read to the children. During this time we read a variety of books: fiction, nonfiction, classics or just something fun and whimsical.

Something that I have found to make read-aloud time doable is to make it fun and special on occasion. Sure most of us partake in  the standard bedtime stories that most kids crave, but what can be done  to make the chapter book during the day exciting to listen to for little ones?

Making that time special creates a fun environment for books of all variety.

At our house, we do our history reading during morning snack time.  The kids love when I make this part of our day special.

Before you click off this post, assuming that I have coordinated the book and snack or monogrammed napkins and pulled fresh scones from the oven, rest assured that “special” does not imply “labor-intensive.”

Some days I might make a quick glass of hot chocolate and serve it in nice tea cups. Other days we might have lemonade with a fun (read: leftover from our last birthday party) straw and a handful of goldfish. The kids really love it if I set a fun table with out-of-the-ordinary things (again, I have simply pulled out remnants from past parties).

Making a special time during the day to read aloud to children really gets them interested in books. Take time this week to put together a fun snack and read something to your kids. Perhaps even challenge yourself (and them!) and read something with chapters and an author who provides little to no illustrations.

You will be amazed by their response!


31 Days towards a Love of Reading

Want to know what is really great about the Internet?

Creative, inspired, and well-spoken individuals can all come together and share thoughts to motivate others.

And they allow the rest of us to tag along.

For the month of October, The Nester is hosting a “31 series” in which people share 31 posts (one per day) of something for the good of others. Sure the Internet is frustrating at times. And yes, Internet Addiction is about to be added to the new DSM V (let us pause and discuss how the DSM III had just hit the shelves when I started Grad School. Dear Time: Quit Flying.). However, the World Wide Web also allows us to learn and share, the basic rules of friendship we all were taught in our preschool days.

Ignore the fact that the calender reads October 3rd today and I will graciously acknowledge that I am a bit late to the party.

For my 31 Days, I opted to share how to cultivate a love of reading in one’s home. Books are so incredibly important to us here at casa de phillips. The husband and I both entered into our marital union holding a strong affection for a good book. When we travel, we carry no less than 3 books per person and likely toss in a few magazines as well. Reading is third to breathing and eating to us.

We desire for our children to share a love for reading as well.

I hope you will follow along with me this month as I discuss tips, tricks, and ideas on how to ignite a love of reading in children.

Day 1 will be posted shortly.

(Want to write your own 31 Days series? No worries, there is still time to jump on the late bus with me! Head over to The Nester and link up!)


First Day Jitters



Miss E. headed off to Pre-K today.

By herself.

All alone.

True, most kids head off to school alone. However, Miss E. has always had her brother near in social situations. Although they did not share a class last year, the two were in the same building and routinely saw each other during the day. Miss E. has an independent streak, yet prefers to have her brother in close proximity.

She has been a tad anxious about this first day of pre-k….which she would have to attempt alone…since the last day of school last year.

It was sort-of a long summer, if you can imagine, especially when anyone mentioned anything about school to E.

However, the girl was ready for school this morning. She had picked out which uniform to wear, she had carefully selected her bows, her bag was packed with a picture for her teacher and her water bottle was full.

After the required snapping of 472 “First Day of School” pictures on the front porch, we set off for school.

Then the “I don’t want to go’s” set in.

Then there were tears.

Then there was a silent resolution to be brave (after someone may/may not have bribed her with lunch after school).

By the time we finally arrived at school, Miss E. was happy and ready to learn. She walked in, hung up her bag and tackled her morning.

As the boy and I climbed back in the car to tackle a bit of school ourselves at home, a glum look spread over his face.

“I wish I got to be at school with Evelyn.” he grumped.

These two kiddos are joined at the hip, I tell you.

Personally, I hope they stay that way.

1 Day Down…184 left to enjoy!

Well, the school bell officially rang this morning and first grade has begun.

Our proud new first grader on his first day of school:

The required teacher/student picture:

Our home school class:

Day one went really well. The teacher seemed to have things together. The students were eager to learn (E. called me “Teacher Mommy” most of the day). The janitorial staff was a bit questionable but the cafeteria lady did serve up a mean lunch of leftover mini hamburgers and yogurt. The principal even managed to stop by a few times and see what was going on (and let the students practice their new skill of jumping off the kitchen island into his arms. Potential PE credit??)  Overall, everyone was pleased with Day One.

I have many, many more sentiments and thoughts to share regarding homeschooling. However, this teacher is pooped after day one and Season Three of Mad Men (thanks, Kelly S!) and my husband are waiting for me downstairs.

I will share soon about our decision to homeschool, the path we plan to take with homeschooling, pictures of our school room, our curriculum for the year and our daily schedule.

In the meantime, one more picture of that cute little first grader (and his sister) who now lives under our roof here at casa de phillips

Are playgrounds too safe?

The playground at my elementary school was divided into two sides: the little kid playground (K-2) and the big kid playground (3-4).

It was a momentous occasion when one moved from second to third grade because it officially meant one was old enough, wise enough and mature enough to play on the big kid playground.

The big kid playground was home to two very prestigious pieces of equipment: The Witches Hat and The Maypole.

The Witches Hat was a large metal structure that resembled a witches hat (clever name, right?). Children would hold onto the bars, run in a circle and be swung high up into the air as the hat rotated. Great fun.


The Maypole was another metal structure consisting of chains and bars attached to a large pole. Children each grabbed a bar, ran around a circle like crazy people  and attempted to soar in the air.

Of course both pieces of equipment were made more fun when one could trick it up a little bit, by attempting to dangle by ones knees of the bars or standing on the bars or getting the big kids to hold down one side so the smaller kids were shot high into the air.

Fortunately both pieces of equipment were placed over a large strip of concrete, to break children’s falls as they flew off the metal bars.

There were many broken bones, at least four scraped knees and one bloody elbow a day and screams of glee as a result of such play equipment.

Although my elementary school is still alive and thriving (What’s up, Deener Dawgs??), the Witches Hat and the Maypole have since been replaced with the typical multi-level play structures and rubber wood chips of today’s youth.

Last week a study made headlines as it discussed the question “Are playgrounds too safe?”  The idea behind this study was looking at the notion some critics have regarding the extreme safety measures taken when designing playgrounds. Critics  believe that the “safe” playgrounds of today can stunt the emotional growth of children, leaving them with anxieties and fears (mainly the fear of heights since “monkey bars” and large climbing structures have become a thing of the past). Critics site new playgrounds as being boring and unable to provide ways for children to encounter and overcome their fears.

Opponents of this research on “too-safe” playgrounds say that there is no clear evidence that safer playgrounds have lowered the risk of injury. In fact, some believe that safety measures such as rubber wood chips give an illusion of safety and potentially put children at a higher risk of danger.

The question remains for today’s parent: Are playgrounds TOO safe?

In my opinion, no.

The structures are there for children to play and explore. We have all seen children climb to the highest peak of play equipment, regardless of the absences of traditional monkey bars. We have witnessed kids master rock climbing walls, something the playgrounds of my youth never had. Occasionally we stumble across an ancient merry-go-round (or in our case, the new version made for one) and spin our kids fast until their little world turns hazy and green. Although structures are different from days gone by, they can still be manipulated by a child’s imagination into something magical and entertaining.

And they still help children burn off all that excess energy, which is why most parents take their children to the playground in the first places.

What can (if anything has) contribute to the rise of fears and anxieties in children generated on the playground is the new phenomenon of “Helicopter Parenting.” Parents feel the need to be their child’s safety net as they navigate play equipment, letting out little gasps and muttering “Be careful!” at every pass and turn. We attempt to protect the children from their own play in hopes of creating a safe outdoor setting. In this attempt we can either make children anxious about their ability to maneuver on the equipment or we over-direct their play and stifle their imagination. My oldest fell from a piece of play equipment (one of these new “safe” ones) at the age of 2.5. One of the worst parenting moments to date, especially since I can be Queen Helicopter Mom on any given day. Although I was a wreck, he was fine after a few tears.

What do you think? Are playgrounds too safe? Are parents too anxious these days?

Should we bring back the two story metal slide and concrete playgrounds or stick with the tubular structures of today?

Our decision to redshirt

School started yesterday for the children of casa de phillips.

Not a moment too soon, in this mother’s opinion. The three of us were spending just a bit too much time together this summer and we all needed a bit of a break.

This year the children started at a new school. I spent months researching potential programs. I went so far as creating a spreadsheet with pros and cons of at least fifteen different preschool programs in the area. When my eyes began to cross and I started to think that perhaps just watching an hours worth of Sesame Street a day would be enough of an education, I finally made my decision.

The smiles on the kids’ faces when I arrived to pick them up this afternoon was proof that we found a fun place for them to learn this school year.

The exciting aspect of school for the children is that they are finally together. Yes, the “twins” who were born 21 months apart have been reunited at school. For the time being, they are rotating through the school in the same group (children rotate through rooms and areas: reading, science, creative arts, gym, math, geography, computer lab, etc.). Despite the fact that these two see each other every waking minute of the day, the thought of hanging out with each other at school is beyond thrilling to them.

The question with this school year has been, “Is Isaac going to Kindergarten?” Since he was born, we knew that most likely we would “red shirt” him the year he could officially begin kindergarten. The cut-off date for our state is September 1st, meaning a child must be five years of age by September 1st if he/she is going to attend public school. Isaac’s birthday is at the beginning of August. We knew that if we sent him this year he would most likely be the youngest in his class. Although being the youngest is not a terrible thing in itself, we knew it would mean that Isaac could potentially be smaller than the other kids (more of an issue for boys rather than girls) and not as emotionally mature as other children.

Remember the kid who cried all the time in first grade?

Well, I bet you he had a summer birthday.

Over the past five years, we have talked to many different people about our choice to redshirt kindergarten. I have talked to parents, children in the same predicament, educators and friends about this decision. In all my conversations, only one person encouraged me to send Isaac on to school this year (who happened to be a director of a Montessori program. If you are familar with Montessori, you know that grades are not even recognized. Therefore I felt her opinion was  a bit skewed.). There is a lot of talk and research about redshirting, both for and againstit. Some people worry that if a child is held back a year from school he/she is missing out on a chance to learn. This is not an issue for us because Isaac has attended formal preschool programs since he turned two. Other people worry that if too many children are redshirting, it skews the age range in a classroom. I see some validity with this point, but then look at such schools of thought as the Montessori method who deliberately put an array of ages in a program to enhance learning and do so successfully.

Those who support redshirting particularly do so when the child being held back is a male. Boys with late birthdays (June – September) seem to do better when given an extra year to grow both physically and emotionally. Research has found that boys who were redshirted in Kindergarten seemed to be advantaged academically down the road, especially reading.

The question that remains is “What about the fact that a child with a summer birthday might be ready academically? Will he/she be bored when he finally starts school?”

My answer is quite profound and goes along the lines of  “Uhh…we don’t know. Ask me next year.”

Currently Isaac has strong reading skills, math skills and writing skills. We attribute these things to a quality preschool, an intrinsic love for learning on his part, and my tendency to purchase every workbook I come across.  When he does enter the Kindergarten classroom is he going to be bored to tears when phonics are discussed? Possibly. Will he entertain himself to hold off the boredom by getting in trouble? Likely. He is a boy.

Now that I have been able to tuck away all my preschool spreadsheets, I am about to start creating school spreadsheets. Although we are quite comfortable with our decision to hold Isaac back and give him another year to develop, we also recognize that we need to find an educational program that will be fun and challenging to him.

And not cost the equivalent to what I paid for college.

So, yes, we are redshirting kinder this year.

Yes, we are not quite sure exactly what direction we will take with the children’s formal schooling.

Yes, I love spreadsheets a little too much.

Any questions?

Now the requisite “First Day of School” pictures:

*The children’s uniforms look a tad funny because I have digitally blurred their school logo. I may have blogged during the birth of my second child, but I do attempt to keep some things private. Sometimes.

Back to school for the phillips family

As September rushed to greet us, the phillips family went back to school. Isaac has been counting down the days until school began, eager to get started on preschool for the 2009/2010 year. He had grand plans as for what he would carry in his backpack, who he would play with on the playground, and what exactly he would learn.

I have a secret suspicion that he had concocted a few lesson plans in that little head of his as well. I hope the child did not feel the need to share said plans with his teacher. (The other day he offered a suggestion to the children’s librarian about a potential activity for storytime. She was not very amused by such a suggestion). As in years past, Isaac was allowed to bring a special friend to join him on the first day of school. This year the honors fell to Tiger, leaving poor Ike at home to wonder why he was not attending preschool.

Isaac chose a red shirt with a collar (red is his all-time favorite color and collared shirts are an almost daily request… he is his PopPop’s grandson) to wear on his first day of school. The backpack of choice this year was MarioKart. I was a bit sad to see the Little Einsteins backpack used over the past two years set aside in the top of his closet. I can remember a tiny little twenty-four month old Isaac hugging that pack ferociously the day we purchased it in Target.
But a boy has to grow-up (just a bit) and MarioKart is a harmless replacement.

Isaac had no reservations about going to class and sitting down to get right to work. Having graduated into the “experienced student” status, he was the designated line leader for the day. That boy loves being line leader (go figure), enjoying any opportunity to lead others around and possibly direct them in what to do/say/act/feel.

While Isaac was at school, Evelyn and I enjoyed our annual girl’s lunch at a local eatery. I *heart* a good girl’s lunch complete with flavored ice tea and chicken salad sandwiches so I am thankful that I have a daughter to accompany me on such outings. While dining, I asked Evelyn if she will still want to eat with me when she is a big girl. After getting over her initial anger because she thought my statement implied she currently was not a big girl (“I am a big girl, Mommy!”), she agreed that she would always lunch with me. I figure such an agreement might dissolve a bit during the teenage years, but for now I am thankful for quiet moments with my favorite little girl.

Because the children attend a particular type of preschool, their classes do not meet on the same days. Isaac currently attends two days a week, while Evelyn just goes one. Therefore after Isaac’s first day of school at the beginning of the week we turned around and had Evelyn’s first day of preschool the following day.
Miss E. was not too convinced she wanted to attend school, claiming she would just rather “stay with ewe, Mommy.” After a minor wardrobe meltdown (she wanted to wear this dress because she knows it is a “school dress”. However, her legs are so long now that the dress has become a shirt.), she was fed, dressed, and ready to go.

I got her ready under the clear belief that no little girl should attend her first day of preschool without a bow as big as her head secured tightly in her hair.

Evelyn’s backpack this year is Disney Princess. It is pink, glittery, and the definition of “tacky”…which is exactly why she loves it. It makes her terribly happy so I attempt to ignore my feelings of dislike over anything with a character screenprint affixed to it.

Isaac led the way into school, Evelyn attempting to toddle behind him while holding up a backpack that weighs more than she.

We were fortunate enough that Tobe could go into work just a bit late that day so he could see E. off on her first day (and have Isaac show him the classroom).
Evelyn quickly found her name and placed her backpack on the hook and her folder in the container. Knowing that the children are tested at the beginning/end of each year, I had reviewed E. earlier that morning about all her basic knowledge (name recognition, colors, shapes, counting, ABC’s). Pretty obnoxious, huh? I did refrain from inquiring as to how she did on her test later that day during pick-up time (Don’t worry, I’ll ask next week. I only refrained because the previous day when the teacher told me how Isaac had done on his test I mentioned that she might also want to test his knowledge of the United States and have him identify various countries on a globe. See what I mean about obnoxious?).
After a few (hundred) pictures, Evelyn found a seat at the table and got to work. We were able to get Isaac out of the room without broadcasting to the entire class that we were leaving (it is a covert operation when leaving Miss E.) and left our baby girl to experience her first educational setting alone. Isaac and I enjoyed our very first day alone without Miss E. in two years. He had quite the time planning our activities and choosing the location for our lunch date.

Evelyn’s first day was a success. There were some tears, but they did not last long. When I picked her up, she perkily jumped in the car and exclaimed, “I didn’t eat my lunch today!”. Seems that one of the crying episodes happened during lunch time and she did not want to eat lunch without her mommy.

I personally think she might have been crying because there was no ice tea or cute little sandwiches served…

School is off to a good start. Both children have been especially cranky in the afternoon as we adjust to this new/old schedule (one day they were both laying in the floor crying, clad only in t-shirts and underwear while I attempted to cook supper), but I figure that phase will pass quickly. I have heard snippets of little conversations between the two as they compare activities participated in and choice of recess equipment played on while at school on their separate days.

Good times.

Hopefully the two will still be this eager about school in seven years when I have to drag them out of bed and shove them out the door.

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