Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Literature for Young Ladies (and their moms!)

I recently finished teaching a literature class for 9-12 year old girls, and the thing that I found most discouraging was how few truly great books these girls had read. BUT I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the girls' favorite books - ones I would never have guessed they would enjoy! (Shakespeare, anyone?) The question, though, was how to encourage them to read more. For a voracious read like myself, it never occurred to me that most people aren't avid readers - until I had children. 3 lovely girls, for whom reading came easily to 2, but more slowly to the last. My older girls both love books (though not always the ones I'd like them to read), but my youngest struggled a little in the beginning. Reading is work for her, and consequently, she doesn't enjoy it as much as her sisters. I have labored under the {erroneous} assumption for years that simply surrounding a child with books would make them naturally love books. It worked fairly well with the older girls, but obviously isn't enough for our youngest....

So, how do you foster a love of reading in children? 

Build a library. It's not the only solution, but certainly a huge factor in developing life-long readers. Our girls are surrounded by hundreds of books (yes, literally hundreds), including a large selection of favorite classics. Have they read most of them? Oh, no. But they definitely read more because they have constant access to a wide variety. Thrift stores and book fairs are our favorite places to explore! We recently had to enforce a moratorium on new purchases until I have time to build a bookcase for the family room. (It's loosely enforced, though.) Do most people need that many books? Nope. But having a decent selection on hand is a vital part of encouraging readers.

Visit the library often. Our youngest LOVES animal books! We have quite a few laying around, but not nearly enough to keep her happy. This is the child who comes home with 20-25 animal books. I swear she cleans out the entire shelf every time we go!

Join (or start) a book club for them. My oldest learned to love the classics last year in an Honors English class, but  I really wanted my younger girls to develop a taste for great books a little sooner. I loved teaching the "Literature for Young Ladies" class for our homeschool co-op, but this next semester we'll be hosting a book club instead. The children take turns choosing a book for the group and hosting the discussion group each month. Local libraries often have book clubs for different ages and interests, so check there, too.

Read with them. I'm going to be honest here. I didn't read to my younger girls nearly as much as my oldest, and I seriously regret it.  This Fall, we read most of the class selections together, though. Even older kids love to be read to, and those nights with all three of my girls curled up on our bed are priceless memories! If your children are  older, they can even take turns reading.

Start with abridged versions for young readers. The language in older classics can be challenging for struggling or young readers. My youngest would never make it through Little Women right now, but thoroughly enjoyed the abridged version. I know she'll pick up the original when she's ready, but the abridged version was a great introduction for her.

Use incentives! Just finished Little House on the Prairie? Visit a local pioneer site or museum. A Wrinkle in Time can be a great reason to visit a science museum or exhibit. My literature class loved craft projects and games related to the stories! A quick search of Pinterest can yield more ideas than you'll ever be able to use. One of my favorite resources is the LitWits Workshop website. They have resources and teaching guides for a number of children's classics.
 I don't recommend using money or unrelated rewards, though. I once tried to pay my girls $1 per book. They actually read fewer books. Research indicates that it can make reading seem like something undesirable that needs a "sweetener". Save the bribes for trips to the dentist!

I would really love to see this be the year my younger girls explore great literature! To that end, I'm compiling a list of "approved" books grouped by genre for them to chose from including traditional classics, plus some I found enjoyable as a child/teen. It doesn't mean they can't read other books, but they'll be expected to finish one from the list each month. For all of you, I also included ones we've already read that your families might enjoy. It's certainly not a complete list, though, so please feel free to add your favorites in the comments, and I'll add them to our hopefully-growing list!

Great Literature for Young Ladies 2014

Historical & Fiction
 (anything set in another time period)
Anne of Green Gables series
Little Women series
The Secret Garden
 Little House on the Prairie 
Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
American Girl books
Emma
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
The Bronze Bow
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Fantasy/Science Fiction
A Wrinkle in Time series
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander
Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey 
Hatching Magic by Ann Downer
Harry Potter series
Ender's Game series
Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (series)
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (series)
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
The Frog Princess by E.D.Baker (series)
Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale (comic book-style)
Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Mrs.Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
  The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Through the Looking Glass/ Alice in Wonderland

Poetry & Plays
Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare (really, anything by him)
Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
Walt Whitman
Shel Silverstein 
The What Your __ Grader Should Know series by E.D.Hirsch has an age-appropriate collection of fables, short stories, and poetry in every book.

Adventure
Treasure Island
Swiss Family Robinson
Sherlock Holmes
Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Red Badge of Courage
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Journey to the Center of the Earth
 Kidnapped
Robinson Crusoe
Gulliver's Travels

For Younger Girls
Charlotte's Web
Trumpet of the Swan
Stuart Little
The Borrowers series
Pippi Longstocking series
Aesop's Fables
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond (series)
Happy reading!!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Adorable Glamping Play Tents



Supplies:
2 - 1x2's (8ft.each)
2 - 1/2" dowels (4ft long)
1 - 3/4" dowel (4ft long)
2 ft 1/2" elastic
1 yd wide ribbon (or 2 - 18" long pieces)
approx. 2 1/2 yd 44-45" wide fabric
1.5 yds of wide rick rack or ribbon (optional)
fabric for pennants - scraps, fat quarters, etc. (optional)
1/2" and 3/4" drill bits
Drill, sandpaper/sander, sewing machine, saw, etc.
Frame:
Cut 1x2's in half, then trim one end on each at a 22.5 degree angle (or not. It just looks better, and the legs sit on the floor better). Sand all pieces smooth. Drill a 3/4" hole approximately 5 inches from the non-angled end of each piece. Drill 1/2" holes approximately 1.5-2 inches from the angled ends. These holes are for the dowels, obviously. :) Set all wood pieces aside.

Cover:
 Fold one bottom edge of fabric over 1/2 "; press flat. Fold edge over 1.5" to form a rod pocket; pin and press. Stitch close to edge, about 1/8" or so. Insert the 1/2" dowel into the pocket.
 Lay 2 leg pieces down together, angled ends forming an inverted "V". Place one on top of the other and slide the 3/4" dowel through the holes. Repeat with the other 2 pieces on the opposite end of the dowel. Leave about an inch of dowel sticking out of each end. Stand it up and spread the legs to form the tent frame.
It will NOT be very stable at this point, but everything works out when it's fully assembled. Drape the cover over the top, and insert the 1/2" dowel into the holes at the bottom of the legs on one side of the tent. Insert the other dowel into the other side's holes. Gently pull the fabric down to stretch it tight over the frame. Now, measure where the second rod pocket should go. Leave a 1/2" to fold over so the seam is sealed. :) This part can vary, which is why I didn't give you exact measurements. It all depends on where you drilled your holes. :) Once you have this figured out, remove the cover, trim the fabric, and repeat the steps to create the second rod pocket.
Optional pennant decoration:
Cut 6 triangles from your fabric scraps - top edge is 6" long. The points on mine are 8" from the top.
Hem or serge the side edges of each triangle, about 1/4", folded over once.
 
Finishing the Tent:
Cut your elastic into 4 pieces, about 6" long or so. Assemble the frame and cover. The fabric should be stretched, but not so tight that it bends the rods. Wrap a piece of elastic around the first leg bottom, pinning it to the backside of the fabric just above the rod pocket (so it doesn't show from the front). The loop should be snug enough to help hold the frame together. Repeat on other 3 legs.
If you are adding the pennant, pin the ribbon or rick rack at the peak of the tent on both sides, folding the edges over about 1/2" to hide raw edges. Pin each pennant under the ribbon, spaced evenly. You will want LOTS of pins so nothing moves around while you're sewing it on. Pin one of the 18" ribbons to the peak at both ends, as well. Remove the cover from the frame carefully. Stitch down the middle of the pennant ribbon, then sew on the ribbons and elastic loops.

To Assemble/Take Down:
Insert 1/2" dowels into rod pockets (leave these in when taking it down). Insert 3/4" dowel into holes at tops of legs, and spread them out. Lay cover over the top, pulling sides down. Wrap elastic loops around leg bottoms, then insert smaller dowels into holes at bottoms of legs. Tie ribbons at peak ends around the tops of the legs and beneath the inch or so of dowel sticking through the holes. This should provide the tent with more stability. The legs will collapse outward if pushed or slid along the floor (tents work best on carpet or grass).
To take it down, untie the ribbons, slide elastic loops off, and take small dowels out of the legs - DON'T take them out of the rod pockets, though. Remove the cover, fold it in half with the dowels together, and lay it on the floor. Take the legs off the top dowel and lay all 5 pieces on the cover at the end wit the small dowels. Roll everything up, and then use the ribbons to tie around the bundle for easy storage. (THAT part was unintended brilliance on my part!!)


Emily's Glamping Birthday Party

When Emily started planning her 9th birthday party (waaay back in January), she really wanted to go camping. Hmmm...okay, but March in Utah is definitely NOT outdoors-friendly. Sorry, sweetie!
But why not camp indoors? Glamping - or, glamour camping - was a perfect fit for an indoor, girly party! Glamping is super trendy right now, so it was amazingly easy to find ideas on Pinterest - something I'm not used to. My girls generally request themes that have me scouring the internet for crazy stuff. By far my most social child, Emily also surprised me by only wanting to invite her 4 besties (and her big sis), instead of the 2 dozen or so that usually round out the invite list for my girls' parties. And no games or planned activities - she just wanted them to bring their American Girl dolls to play with.
 ("Really, Em? Are you sure??" "Yes, I am.")
Now, we throw some elaborate parties around here (by our neighborhood's standard, not Pinterest's!), but the sheer numbers involved usually keep the party favors pretty tame. This time, I made these adorable play tents for each girl to take home after the sleepover. At $12-ish each, they were still pretty inexpensive, too! Want one of your own? Of course you do! The instructions are HERE . You're welcome. :)

 I just couldn't have a party without at least one, little craft, though! The girls made "lanterns" out of pint-sized Mason jars covered in stickers, sprayed with frosted glass spray paint, and lit with electric tea lights. (Sorry! I forgot to take pictures!)

Dinner was just grilled hot dogs, chips, fruit, and lemonade (in darling jars, of course!), but dessert was truly the main event:
S'more Cupcakes

Trail Mix Popcorn

 ....and an assortment of goodies: rock candy in her colors, licorice, and s'mores (roasted over the gas stove after it started raining). All served on my collection of vintage glass plates for that touch of glamour!

Decorations were kept simple this time to really highlight the tents: just a couple of pennant banners made from fabric left over from the tents, and a little added greenery on the mantle. Honestly, I had some tree stumps, plants and lanterns planned, but the tents took up SO much room that nothing else would really fit without being in their way. Oh, well. :)
Emily & Co. loved the party - especially the tents! - and the freedom to just play and hang-out. I guess it just goes to show that you don't need to have a gazillion guests, hyper-planned activity schedules, or a huge budget to pull off a fun party your birthday child will love.
I hope you like it, too!





Monday, February 4, 2013

Laundry Room Makeover - The Beginning

Every January, I get this overwhelming urge to change EVERYTHING around me - the house, my style, the kids.... Sometimes it even gets me to the gym. ;)
This year, I'm feeling a need for everything to be lighter and brighter. On a limited budget (as in, zero), I'm trying to be creative - and thrifty - in my approach, so I started with one of the smaller rooms -
The Laundry Room
And by small, I really mean super tiny. My walk-in closet is bigger. No joke.
One of the biggest issues is lack of storage. There is one shelf above the washer and dryer, and I shoved a cheap bookcase into the sliver of space behind the door to hold cleaning supplies. That's it, friends. No wonder I hate doing laundry so much, right? :)

My plan is to brighten up the space to make it feel bigger, build some kick-butt storage, and then dress it all up with fun colors and storage. Here's our lovely "before", just for reference:


I don't usually keep the appliances in the middle of the floor. I just forgot to get a picture until after I had already started. See the boring, beige walls and woefully-inadequate curtain? Those definitely need to go, so that's where I'm starting.
I decided on Behr's Heavy Cream {at 50% of the tint} in a satin finish for the walls, and I LOVE IT! It turned out to be a creamy, warm white that's not too yellow next to the stark white of the washer and dryer.
The Ultra Premium paint has primer in it, but I highly recommend priming first whenever you're going lighter or more than a shade darker. I didn't, until about halfway through when I realized I would have to do 2 coats anyway. Plus, primer is cheaper. Like, by half.
Here's a little "after" shot for you:


See the cute chevron Roman shade? Yep, I made that. I'd love to give you a tutorial, but I got a little impatient with taking pictures every few minutes and quit. :) Actually, there are several really good tutorials out there that I looked over before tackling my own. My favorite is this one by Brown Paper Packages:


A few key changes: I already had a curtain rod up, so I didn't use a 1x2 at the top, per her instructions. I actually made a rod pocket {like a standard curtain} with a small pocket for a dowel at the bottom of the rod pocket. {The dowel holds the curtain flat at the top so it won't move when I raise it.} I didn't put a dowel in the bottom of the panel because I wanted it to hang lower, and I also made the panel wider than the window because it hangs on the outside of the frame.

So, that's the beginning of the laundry room makeover. It cost roughly $50 for paint and primer, and another $25-ish for all the Roman shade materials. I'm hoping to keep the whole makeover project around $200 or so, which doesn't sound very thrifty until you realize that it includes building a wall of custom shelving. :)  I'm super excited to get started on the storage wall {behind the door}! I'm just waiting for this early Spring coming our way - then off to the garage for some hardcore building! Whoo-Hoo!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013