Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Advanced Readers are like Really Tall Children

My beef with the concept of reading levels rears its head again. 

A Third Grade friend recently picked up Harry Potter and fell in love with the books.   He chewed through the first two.  By the third book he slowed down and the fourth book ended up being set aside.  


It is not his skill as a reader.  According to all the numerology and lexical computations attached to literacy today, he reads on a 5th grade level.  

My third grade friend set Book 4 down because emotionally he is a 3rd grader.  This makes perfect sense to me.  I sobbed when Serious Black died.  

J. K. Rowling aged her characters and her writing style with each book.  Her first readers matured a year or so while they waited for the next installment in the series.  The following generations of readers get to consume the books at will.  For the younger advanced readers, this can take them out of their comfort zone.

Anyone who has spent time watching children knows of someone who grew much faster than the others.  The tall children have a hard time because physically they look a few years older than they are.  But let a 4' tall second grader scrape his or her knee and you will see their emotional age.  

There is not a direct correlation between maturity and physical height or numeric reading level.  

For those readers who are not ready for the later years of Harry Potter, I heartily suggest "The Familiars" by Adam Jay Epstein.  This is a growing series from the point of view of magical animals.  Lots of fun Potteresque magic, solid world building, and lots of personal growth.  No static characters for Epstein.  This is a plus in my book .  "The Familiars" will challenge the 3rd and 4th grade readers, build their vocabulary and entertain them.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Going Old School with Science Time

Remember the days when Fisher Price's Little People didn't have arms or legs?  The child's imagination was supposed to take care of those details.  I kept this in mind when Peggy and I taught "Habitats" in Science Time.

For their take home craft, the children designed their own creature and build it's habitat.  Since Science Time is an after school program for three and four year old's so we kept it simple.

I made the pom poms with knitting yarn rather than using the familiar store bought kind.  No eyes, tails or legs either.  All of those details were up to the child's imagination.

Preschoolers are always doing crafts with round plates so I tossed things up a bit and splurged for the oval plates.  

I cut toilet paper tubes in half and hot glued them to the plates the night before.  The biggest challenge we face in Science Time is making sure the glue is dry at the end of the hour.  Our Scientists do not want to wait to show Mom and Dad what they learned.

Our 3's are too young to use scissors so we set out an array of construction paper from the scraps bin, cut into strips and shapes.

The children loved it!  My only regret is I didn't have time to write down what they were saying about their creatures and their habitats.

What beautiful imaginations!  Science Time will definitely be doing this Habitat class again.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Estee Lauder and Me

I am pleased to present . . . Fort Gwenyth Paltrow.

My poor neighbors.  They are investing in more landscaping as we speak.

Fort GP began over a year ago at the recycling center as a right place at the right time kind of thing. A woman pulled up with a mini van full of giant cardboard tubes.  The super fun ones that are hard to find.  Recycling zen!

She warned me that they were full.  I promised to recycle the contents.

Little did I realize that this was a double score!  Inside the tubes were all the promotional materials for Estee Lauder.  The giant banners that hang from the ceiling.
The daughter loves Fort Gwenyth.  The son is revolted.  Says he has nightmares about blue eyes staring at him.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rules of the Garage

Working with recycled materials is my attempt at good karma.  It makes me happy to give something a new life, whether its functional or aesthetic.

The problem is managing those recycled materials.  Sometimes I see something so great that I have to pick it up. Like a giant truck muffler that my sister and I found in a gutter.  Or the 5 foot long piece of pvc pipe large enough for my son to crawl through.  I know I can do something cool with these things but what and when isn't always clear.

To keep from being on one of those tv shows and to stay happily married, my garage has a strict rule.  If I don't use it in a year it goes back to the recycling center.  Sometimes just knowing that the time limit is about to expire provides inspiration.

These pine blocks came from the Blue Ridge Log Cabin dumpster on 26 near Spartanburg.  With one week left, they received a stay of execution.

Pinterest saved the day.  There I was, dithering on this awesome site for crafting with mason jars:

Suddenly I knew what to do with the log cabin chunks, my mason jar fetish, the chalk board paint i found at the recycling center and my poor lonely mantle that has never been properly decorated.

No, I haven't finished the mantel piece installation yet.  But I will.  Have no fear.  Meanwhile, the log cabin chunks have received a stay of execution and a date with the sander.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Seed Starting

Starting seeds inside isn't really that hard.  Or so they say.  But I have yet to get it right.

Granted, there are external factors involved.  The first year I tried, there was a very helpful three year old picking the "flowers" to show mommy.  The next year I placed the pots in a higher more out of the way place then promptly forgot about them.  My third attempt moved away from prefab peat pots using home made recycled newspaper pots on old cookie sheets.  Unfortunately this was the year we got two kittens.  Most of this attempt ended up in the vacuum cleaner.

Last year I saved the giant sized costco salad boxes.  Placed upside down on a coffee table, each box held eight newspaper pots and served as a tiny little green house.  Even though a few seedlings survived and made it to the garden I still consider the effort a big old fail.

The table the boxes were on took up a lot of space in the living room.  The boxes them selves were too light and awkward.  Cats, happy doggy tails, clumsy grownups and vacuum cleaners knocked half the garden to the floor.  Then there were the mushrooms.  I forgot to poke some holes in the tops of the salad boxes.  They retained too much moisture.

At the risk of jinxing myself, I think I finally have it right this year.  This year's set up is less invasive than the others.  I clamped a 10" wide strip of ply wood to the window sill to make a base sturdy enough to with stand  a six kid playdate on a rainy day.

Two 10 gallon aquariums hold the pots.  The glass sides let the kids "see" without touching and are high enough to keep the cats out.

So far I am using recycled coffee cups from Mama's because they are abundant.  I will make some paper pots out of rough drafts when I run out (if I run out) of coffee cups.

The first round of tomato seeds are popping up.  Very exciting.  Hopefully this set up lets me get one step closer to my goal of a year round harvest.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This is not the Kubb you are looking for. . .

Yet another custom kubb set.  A good friend of ours with tendencies towards the Dark Side requested R2DKubbs so that the Force may knock them down.  

I promise to post the finished product, complete with Death Star King.  This set offered some new challenges and lead to some neat discoveries about Valspar cabinet gloss varnish, Killz primer and sharpie markers.  

Friday, February 17, 2012

More Custom Kubbs: Purple!

This set of kubbs went to my sister Catherine.  An artist friend of ours made a king for her so she requested some purple kubbs to match.  

My daughter was not satisfied with plain purple kubbs.  Too boring for her Auntie.  So I let her work in our artist friend's folk art pointilism style using different sized dowels dipped in paint.  This technique let a 7 year old turn out a pretty good looking end product.  

Once again, all the fun paint colors and clear top coat came from the recycling center.  If you live in the Fort Mill area, holler before you project.  I love finding the right home for stuff.  

Vi the supervisor. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

This is definitely not a DIY blog

A year ago my sister Catherine moved into the neatest apartment ever. It was the top
story of a 1850's house.

The stairs to her bedroom were so narrow we couldn't get a twin boxspring up them.  The bedroom itself was more like an equilateral triangle. Catherine may be my baby sister but she is still too old to sleep on a mattress on the floor.  We needed a very low bed that could be easily assembled on site.

So I searched online for simple platform bed plans. I chose one by aeray on

I like this plan because it is cheap, sturdy, easy and lends itself to repurposed lumber.  Plus, the whole thing broke down into a stack of boards that could fit inside a VW Bug.

Our guest room has a box spring and a mattress. I saved my children's mission style crib to reuse as a headboard and footboard. All I needed to do was build the frame.

In a fit of procrastination I decided to build a full size version of Catherine's platform bed.

I wasn't able to use any recycled or cull lumber for the project but the total cost was still only $35. My Home Depot bill would have been $25 if I remembered that I already had a new box of 2" screws in the garage.

The legs needed to be high enough to house the great storage bags I found for my horde of quilting fabric.

I measured twice. Honest!!!

I have to jump to climb into the bed. I'm 5'7".

My daughter looked like a cat climbing an iceberg.  She couldn't get on  the bed without using a chair.

Son and husband think its hilarious.

Dog is huffy.  She does not like having to work for a nap.

The good news is that the bed is sturdy enough not to groan as a family of four uses it as a vaulting horse while laughing hysterically at dear old Mom.

Do I cut the legs down and find different storage units for the quilting fabric? Mt. Bedrest just needs to lose five inches to be the same height as the bed in the master bedroom. It is easy enough to unscrew the legs and trot them down to the chop saw.

My husband likes the bed as is. I'm not sure if this is an aesthetic comment or if he is simply enjoying my chagrin.

Do I build a night stand that doubles as a set of stairs?  Is this a great chance to go funky chic?

I could toss the box spring. Its too big to store. I don't like this option though. The box spring is only five years old and hasn't really done anything wrong. It should stay in service.

Stay tuned for the Saga of Mt. Bedrest.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Custom Kubb Sets

This is the first in a series of custom kubb sets.  Catherine was going to visit a good friend of ours and requested a cow spot set.  

Here is where I get to brag a bit.  The clear coat varnish, primer and all the paints for this set were snatched from the jaws of the landfill at my local recycling center.   The king came from the cull bin at Home Depot.  So this set is tons of fun with a bit of good karma mixed in.  

My mistake or learning point in this project was using high gloss enamel latex paint for the base coat.  This meant that it took four coats of black high gloss to fill in the spots.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

And Again

I may be behind on my blog but at least I know why my cats breath smells oh so foul.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Confessions of a Geronimo Stilton Addict

It's okay to read what your kids read.

We watch their tv shows so we know whats going on in their lives and what cultural influences (sass talking Disney Channel Piffle) they are being exposed to. Right? Why not read what they read? It's not a control issue. You don't have to read every single book they touch. Read a few. It's discourse.  Something to talk about outside of the family rigmarole.

Reading what they read will show them that this is such a good story that mom and dad like it too.  It will also help you find books that go beyond Captain Underpants, Tinkerbell, and other sacharine serieal books that are marketed for their covers than for their content.  

Once upon a time it was librarians and teachers that made book recommendations.  I remember my mother going to the public library one summer and asking for a recommended reading list.  

Now it is the publishers telling us what is a good read.  They use shiny covers, gross body parts, princesses and talking mice. Sometimes they are right. There are some fun series out there.  I should know, I have read and currently own 35 Geronimo Stilton books.  

I am a Geronimo Stilton addict. I confess. They are cute and I love them the way I love Italian soap operas.

I don't want to knock book series. As a writer, I'm trying to launch one.  As a reader, I love them. I like slipping into a familiar set of characters and setting. When I'm stressed out and need a little escape, I turn to my favorite series for night time reading and comfort. Way healthier than eating Nutella straight from the jar.

As a parent, I like a good series of books.  It is hard to find that next chapter book for my Third grade son.  I have to pick 12 off the library shelves, sit him down at a table, make him pick three, then present those three to him again at home.  Once he latches on to a book, he devours it in a few days.  

Pyrrhic victory. Hurray he loved the book. Boo . . . we have to go find another one.

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  

If he strikes on a series, I have at least three or four books before we have need start the hunt again. Sometimes I am sneaky and space them out. Currently he is into Nathanial Fludd, Beasteologist by R. L. LaFevers. But there are only four books in the series so far. I'm doling them out.

My daughter is in First grade and almost ready to read chapter books on her own. She will read the first page of every chapter when we read something on her level. Our favorite series are Horrible Harry by Suzy Kline, Roscoe Riley by Katherine Applegate, Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, and Clementine by Sara Pennypacker.

As a middle grade writer, I love anything by Kevin Henkes. He is a wonderful story teller, lots of heart and empathy without being sacharine. Junonia and Olive's Ocean are two of his recent chapter books. He also writes two fun picture book series featureing Chrystanthemum and Lily.

The kids and I are always looking for the next great read. Any suggestions?  

If you are crazy wookies busy with reality and life, here is a blog that can help find good books for your young reader: