Monday, January 24, 2011

Every Day Is Earth Day

While technically "garden week" ended this week, we've only read a few of the many books I wanted to read with Soren this week. And truly, inspired by this library's post of books on plants, "Every Day is Earth Day." I'm certain we will be reading more books on the wonder of living, growing, green things. However, these are our top picks.  All the books I post here are "Soren tested", meaning my two-year-old asked to read each at least twice.

"My Garden" by Kevin Henkes
This one is easily my top pick. The story is rich with imagination, it's charming, beautifully illustrated, and I honestly wish I didn't have to give it back to the library. The little girl in the book imagines the perfect garden where the flowers never die, the rabbits don't eat the plants because they're made of chocolate, and jelly bean trees grow. I'm enchanted.

"The Secret" by Lindsey Barrett George
This was Soren's top pick for the week. We read it over and over, often without another book in the middle. It's visually pleasing for a little person, following the dotted line tracks of garden creatures, sharing a precious secret with each other. The collage-style illustrations are delightful, full of flowers and crawly things.

"A Seed is Sleepy" by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
I really wasn't sure about taking this non-fiction home. It didn't seem age appropriate, but the vibrant illustrations were too much for me to resist. As it turns out, it's not age appropriate, but Soren enjoyed it anyways. He calls it "Seeds do" because it shows, beautifully, exactly what seeds do and how many kinds of seeds there are. I plan to get it again in the future when Soren's language and science skills catch up with him a little.

"Green and Growing, A Book about Plants" by Susan Blackaby
This book thinks to answer questions I never thought to ask like "Do plants have feelings?" It is a fun, quick read, showing the life cycle of a seed and how tiny seeds can make huge trees and tasty fruit.

"Planting a Rainbow" by Lois Ehlert
I'm so glad we own this book. Its beautiful illustrations show the names of elegant flowers like Tiger Lilies and group them according to colors. For someone with beginning language skills like my little guy, it's a great conversational read. We go through it slowly, talking about the colors and patterns. We also love that it's "lap-sized" with big, wide, board pages.

"The Life Cycle of an Apple" by Angela Royston
Again, an age-inappropriate book that turned out to be a hit. It shows every stage in the life cycle of an apple plant, growing shoots, buds, flowers, being pollinated, growing fruit, harvesting or seed dispersal, and beginning again as a baby tree. I found that these kinds of resources in combination with time lapse videos of seeds germinating really helped Soren understand how seeds become plants and how they grow.

"Flower Garden" by Eve Bunting
Truthfully, most of the fiction on gardening we borrowed from the library this week didn't keep Soren's interest, so they aren't posted here. Bunting's "Flower Garden" was an exception. It shows a little girl planting an urban window garden, captures her excitement is she takes plants home on the bus, and the neighborhood's enjoyment of the bright blossoms in the window sill.

This is my last pick for the week. "Kids Garden! The Anytime, Anyplace Guide to Sowing and Gardening Fun" is more for parents than kids, and gave me some great ideas for activities this week and in the future. It helped me shake off my fear of gardening and just go out and put some seeds in the ground. It has wonderful suggestions for recycling, experiments and creative ways to use plants in play. I'd highly recommend you find a copy if you're planning on gardening with kids.

In addition to the garden we planted outside, we reserved a few bean seeds and nestled them into wet cotton balls in a recycled container.  Yesterday, we excitedly discovered that the seeds had sprouted little green roots. It was enormously exciting. He immediately started talking about the seeds outside in the dirt, and I was thrilled to see that he made that important connection that life was happening outside under the ground.

Truly, there are many books we haven't read yet, many seeds we haven't planted, flowers we haven't picked, and holes we haven't dug. Yet. I'm so excited to celebrate living things with my kids every day, every week, for many years. I'm sure we'll be sharing much more fun on this theme in the future.

In the meantime, the three big lessons I learned this week:

  1. Kids regularly need to have dirt under their fingernails.
  2. You're never too little to learn to love all things green and growing.
  3. You can't mess this up. The seeds will sprout, and even if they don't live long, the lesson is learned. Don't take gardening so seriously.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dirt Under our Fingernails

I'm starting to firmly believe that dirt belongs under little fingernails, and that if a child doesn't have dirt under their nails once in a while, something is missing.

This is gardening week - I'm kind of randomly picking a theme for every week this year - and for some reason, I thought that it would be challenging getting a two-year-old interested in something as abstract as putting tiny round things (seeds) in the ground, giving them water, and waiting for days for them to do something magical underground.

Oddly, I didn't have to try hard at all. We grabbed a few books about plants and gardens at the library, read only three of them, slipped into a bathing suit and sandals and went outside to play in the dirt.

I forgot how delightful dirt is to children. Mostly because I developed a primary association of yardwork with a summer episode of weeding when I was about eleven where our family went outside in the Florida sun and heat and removed most of the plants from our backyard.  I had outgrown the delight of playing in the dirt, and truth be told, yardwork in Florida isn't fun no matter who you are, when you do it, or how much you love plants.

Armed with trowels and a few seed packets, Soren and I went out and planted seeds in our garden. Shockingly, I think he perfectly understood what we were doing, preempting instruction and tossing seeds into the dirt. He's reminded me dutifully every day that we need to fire up the hose and water our seeds. When I finally got around to showing him some YouTube time lapse videos of seeds germinating, leaves growing, vines winding, and more, he was delighted.  He kept declaring excitedly, "Seeds do, Mom!" Yes, that's what seeds do.

I'm having fun. He's having fun. And I'm actually getting some yard work done in this delightful January weather in Florida.  Hope you're faring well up North and thinking about getting dirt under your nails with your kids in the coming weeks and months. It's delightful.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Choo Choo Ch'Boogie!

I learned several important lessons over the course of train week:

  1. Do not mention an exciting trip to see trains as you are tucking your two-year-old into bed for the night. It's a miracle he was good the next day after talking to himself until 11 pm in his crib the night before our big field trip.
  2. Two-year-olds don't really understand that museums close, and that one cannot go see the trains at bedtime.
  3. Nothing beats the real thing.
  4. A great book cannot be over-read.
  5. Toddlers have no sense of perfection, and toys for toddlers should reflect that.
But first things first. I already posted my favorite train book recommendations from last week. Here are a few other things we enjoyed from the week.  We sang along with John Denver's "All Aboard", an awesome collection of folk songs and fun songs about trains.  My favorite is the "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie".

I made Soren felt board trains, resulting in revelation #5. Toddlers have no sense of perfection. Toys for toddlers should reflect this.  I spent hours tweaking digital images of trains to transfer with iron-on paper to felt, and only after printing and transferring them realized that the obsession with perfectly straight lines was ridiculous at best.  However, after spending so much time on this craft, I can't bear to keep it to myself, so if you'd like a copy of them, I'd be happy to email them to you to use however you'd like! It'd be a crime and waste of time to let them sit on my hard drive.

Here's what they look like printed:

On Friday last week, I took Soren to the Naples Train Depot. Starting around the 30's, Southwest Florida was a vacation destination for the affluent. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had winter homes in Fort Myers. Naples, my hometown, was the last stop on the way to Miami - and then Cuba - down Florida's Gulf Coast.

The old train depot just underwent a big remodel and the city turned it into a train and transportation museum.  Volunteers maintain an enormous model Lionel train display in the back, and running around the whole property is a small diesel engine. It runs on 7.5" wide track and takes visitors for a thrilling 8 mph tour of the facility.  

Wondering why he's making that face? Because it was amazing (and so is Grampa).

Finally, the museum boasts two retired railway cars: an ancient red caboose and a 1960's era "dining" car. Soren and his Grampa practically recited Marian Potter's "The Little Red Caboose" while touring the caboose and dramatically saving the train from sliding down the "long tall mountain" (mountains brought to you by our imaginations).

"Look out, Little Red Caboose! The train is starting to slip down this long, tall mountain!"
"Not if I can help it!"

Grampa explained to Soren that the brakeman and train crew would have lived in the caboose, sleeping and eating there. If there was an emergency, the brakeman would apply the brakes using the wheel at the back of the train.

For a meager $5, Soren, his grandparents, little sister and I had the time of our lives. I don't think the concept of what a train is sunk in until Soren saw a REAL train car. And I know he had a blast. If it weren't for the lure of food, it would have been very hard to get him to leave.

If you live in Southwest Florida and haven't visited the train depot, I HIGHLY recommend you do. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience, the volunteers who operate the trains and models are excellent, the museum is beautiful.

And with that, train week is over!  We're moving on to a week reading about plants and gardening, just in time to plant some tomatoes after what will hopefully be the last frost here.

Happy reading and happy learning from me and my preschooler to you!

Monday, January 10, 2011

All Aboard! Train Books!

January is a tough month, even for a two-year-old. Disappointment was etched all over his face when he went to visit his grandparents and found that the model train that puffed and chuffed around their Christmas tree had vanished. The disappearance was even more devastating than the disappearance of presents and the tree.

To ease his anguish, I took Soren to the library for the first time since Annika was born in September. With the help of his adorable Mimi (my mom), we cleared the library out of some awesome train books. I also picked up a few lucky finds at our local used toy store.

We played with train toys, sang train songs (Thank you, John Denver!), and this Friday, I'm taking him to a local train depot turned into a train museum!  Here are the books we enjoyed most this week. If Soren didn't ask to read a book at least three times this week, I'm not posting it here. (FYI, I post a favorite book of the day every day on my twitter page, PreschoolReader.) I'm also fully aware that there are no Thomas books in this lineup. While I LOVE Thomas toys, I think the stories are a little too heavy on conflict for really little guys.

"I'm Taking a Trip on My Train" is a peek into the imagination of a little boy, the conductor of his toy train set. It's a fun (and breathtaking) rhyme that slowly replaces nouns with pictograms. Like many of these books, Soren likes to insert nouns like "tracks" and "oil car" while we read.

I know Soren loves a book when he brings it to me saying the title correctly: "We Go Trains, Mom!" We read this one multiple times a day, every day, all week. It's simple, easy to understand, and I'm pretty sure if I asked him to, Soren could recite the whole thing.

"I Drive a Freight Train" is the only non-fiction book in this week's list, but you'd never know. It has adorable illustrations, and Marcia, the train engineer, shares all kinds of facts easy for little boys to understand and left mommy with quite an education on trains. Did you know that even with emergency brakes, a train needs a mile to come to a complete stop?

Curious George is Soren's cryptonite: we have oodles of George stories, and we love all of them so much, we can't just read one.  "Curious George Takes a Train" is a story about the mischievous monkey getting into trouble at a train station, and as always, is super cute. (He's in trouble again? What is the man with the yellow hat thinking leaving him unattended AGAIN?!)

"Freight Train" is an easy read with brilliant, bright illustrations. It talks about colors and rail cars, it's a quickie, but Soren loves to just flip through the pages alone and stare at the train.

This was the winner of the week: "The Goodnight Train" got Soren in the mood to sleep every night this week. He loved looking through the pictures for fun little details, like the shapes the locomotive's smoke makes in the sky, or the bathtub car at the end of the train. This is the one library book I'd like to buy.

This was a lucky find at the used bookstore! A little girl and her mommy ride a bright red train through the country to see her Grandma. It made Soren think of his MeMaw, who lives in New York, who takes him on train rides.  (Who doesn't love like-new books for sixty cents?)

By the author of "Goodnight Moon", this book tells the side-by-side stories of a little toy train and a big locomotive. Its illustrations are stunning, the story is sweet, and leaves Soren ready for his last cuddles and kisses before bed (if there is such a thing as a "last" kiss...).

The week isn't over, but I'm so looking forward to our next trip to the library! I'm planning a week of books about gardening and plants, and can't wait to share our discoveries with you!

What is your favorite train book, game, song, craft? Feel free to post, comment and share here!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A New Year, a Fun Resolution

Hi! I'm Sarah, and I'm proud mommy to Soren (just turned two) and Annika, (two months). We love books. A lot. We wanted to share our love of books with the world.

When the new year rolled around, I toyed with the usual list of possible resolutions - all of which are miserable and exhausting. When a friend on twitter asked for suggestions for a "once a day" resolution project for the new year, I suggested she read a book a day with her daughter, and share it on the internet. She didn't take the suggestion, and I'm glad, because I get to.

Inspired by the homeschool concept of "unit studies, I decided to read books on a theme, at least seven every week, one a day, for 52 weeks.  Our first theme was trains. We hit up the library with Mimi, my mom and wonderful grandmother to my kids, and while Mimi read random books that Soren selected from the shelves, I scoped out a selection of train books.

We are having a ball, for sure.  I hope you'll join us, check out your local library or bookstore, and make a reading challenge for your own family.

I want to inspire you to read, play and explore, no matter how young your kids, and no matter how intimidated you may be by being your kids' most heroic teacher. I also really just like sharing books with friends.

Not only do I plan to share 7 books a week here, but I'll share any fun related crafts, songs, games and preschool-age appropriate fun we have. 

Feel free to make suggestions here, follow the project on twitter, or email See you around!

Sarah, Soren and Annika