7.14.2014

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs or Science-themed Birthday Party


My second child recently turned five, and he loves Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs --both the book and the movie. So for his birthday, we based his party off of themes from both the picture book and the movie.


Invitations

I took a picture of my son in a labcoat and then pasted that picture over an image of the cheeseburger scene from the movie to make my child look like he was Flint Lockwood watching cheeseburgers fall from the sky. I glued these pictures onto a piece of cardstock and wrote the party details on the reverse. This could also easily be done in Photoshop if you had that capability (my computer is too slow to run Photoshop right now and so I just cut and pasted the old-fashioned way).


Décor

*We kept our decorations simple--colorful plastic tablecloths and brown and red "meatball" balloons. Then we set up stations for the kids to play in when they first arrived. We blew up our bounce house and taped a sign and picture of the Jell-O scene from the movie on the outside of the bounce house. The kids pretended that they were bouncing in orange Jell-O.

*Our second station was Flint Lockwood's laboratory. I set up a bucket of water, colored with food coloring, along with a beaker, flask, and test tubes from this set. The kids loved pouring, transferring, and pretending to be scientists. My son also loves to take things apart, so we bought him some old electronics from Goodwill for his birthday. He had started to take them apart prior to the party, and he set up a station at the party to continue working on and playing with these (for safety we set this up at a table away from where little babies were playing).



Food

Because the book starts out with Grandpa cooking pancakes, we scheduled our party in the morning and served a pancake breakfast. We used our favorite recipe for pancakes here. We served bacon, orange juice, and, as a nod to the second movie, we had a Watermelophant serving bowl (with watermelon balls inside) made by my father-in-law. We also added strawberries and whipped cream.

Watermelophant Serving Bowl Instructions: 
1. Trace around a small round plate on top of watermelon. Cut around outline--Save top circle.
2. Scoop out watermelon with melon baller. Set aside to put back into the watermelon later.
3. Carve out a mouth shape and use the melon baller to scoop out holes for the eyes.
3. Cut top of watermelon that you removed into the shape of a trunk and attach to watermelon with toothpicks.
4. Add ears (bok choy) and tail (green chili pepper) and eyes (grapes) with toothpicks to attach.
5. Place melon balls back in watermelon for serving.

Science Demonstrations

After breakfast, we invited all of the children to come to Flint's laboratory and do a few science demonstrations. We choose four simple demonstrations:
1.Making Tissue Paper Jump with Static Electricity and a Balloon
--You can see my demo here in which we used styrofoam--it works even better with a balloon and tissue paper--just remember to "charge" the balloon by rubbing it in your hair.
2. Magic Milk Colors
--See the demonstration in our St. Patrick's Day lesson here.
3. Inflating a Balloon with Vinegar and Baking Soda
4. Mentos & Diet Coke Geysers(Geyser Tube with Caps)
You can see instructions for the last two demonstrations in my States of Matter lesson plan here. One tip I learned for inflating the balloon with vinegar and baking soda is to stretch out the balloon by blowing it up and let the air out before filling it with baking soda. We used a tool we bought online to help us launch the diet coke geysers extra high!

*Piñata

Next we we decided to have it "rain" food from our FLDSMDFR Piñata. We made this homemade piñata based Flint's invention in the movie. This was a project that the kids loved helping with. Their dad taped a brown paper box into the right shape, and they helped cut fringes on white tissue paper. We layered these tissue paper fringes on the box and added construction paper decorations to make it look just like the machine from the movie.

We added a wire loop and rope to hang it from a tree and had a blast hitting the piñata at the party. Even though we tried to weaken the cardboard when assembling it, it was so sturdy that we did eventually have to "input" some numbers in the machine and cut open the bottom of the box to let the candy out. The kids loved it though!

Dessert

For dessert, we served meatball cake pops and a cheeseburger cake. The meatball cake pops were delicious but labor intensive. Thanks to my kind mother-in-law for doing these--since they had several layers of frosting that had to dry between coats to get the right effect. For those brave enough to try--here is the video tutorial she used to make them.
The cheeseburger cake wasn't as difficult. The top and bottom are regular round cakes with a round brownie "meat patty" in the center. Different colored frosting made the "cheese" and "ketchup." And I smashed up gummy fruit wedge candy to become "lettuce" and "tomatoes."

Party Favors

In addition to treats from the piñata, we sent the kids home with simple party favors from the dollar store--ice cream bubbles, stickers, a suction ball, and a food-themed eraser. I glued a map from the book Pickles To Pittsburgh (sequel to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs ) on a brown paper bag and added colorful tissue paper around the goodies.



7.07.2014

25+ Audiobooks for Kids


There is no doubt that taking four young kids on a road trip is daunting. Just packing the car is quite the puzzle. You have to fit all the pieces in just the right way. The portable crib for the baby, strollers, diapers, sleeping bags, pillows, clothes, food... The picture of my kids packed into the car above was when we were just going on a short camping trip!

Last summer, we traveled over 3500 miles on two road trips, one of which was a trip to Yellowstone that included three days of driving all day through the park. What saved us with all of that traveling were the audiobooks we listened to. In fact, my kids loved listening to audiobooks so much, we continued checking out more and more audiobooks from the library when we got home. It's amazing how much time little trips around town take (especially in Southern California with all of our traffic!). We go through 1-2 audiobooks a week just listening in the car. It would take far too long to list every book we have listened to and loved, but I polled my kids and here are some of their favorites. I have two boys, ages 6 and 5, a 3-year-old girl, and a baby girl. My boys especially like humorous stories, stories with talking animals, mysteries, or adventurous stories. My daughter loves books that feature young girls or magic. We take turns picking out books to listen to, so our audiobook list covers a range of reading and interest levels. My kids have often been pleasantly surprised to find that they love a book that they didn't think would interest them at first. So here are 25 of our favorites we have listened to so far...

The Phantom Tollbooth CD
This book is one of those with layers of meaning. The kids will enjoy it as a simple fantasy. Parents will find themselves listening along and laughing at all of the wordplay.

Winnie-the-Pooh (A.A. Milne's Pooh Classics)
This classic is one of the first books I read aloud to my children and it is one that they have requested to re-read again. It is another that is surprisingly entertaining to both adults and children.

A Bear Called Paddington
After finishing all of the Winnie the Pooh books, my kids wanted more, so we turned to Paddington--another silly little bear who is always getting into trouble.

Little House On The Prairie (Series)
These were also some of the first audiobooks we listened to. Though they might not seem like the first choice for young boys, all of my kids loved these books because they are fascinated with cowboys and the time of early American settlements. The books on CD even had violinists play some of the songs that Pa played which helped bring the story to life.

Mr. Popper's Penguins 
This a short, charming classic children's book. What's not to love about entertaining penguins?

Mary Poppins 
These books are a bit different from the Disney movie--but they are classic children's books full of magic and fun.

The Moffats
The ordinary adventures of this family in the early 1900s still captured enough of the essence of childhood that my children could relate with and enjoy the book.

Half Magic 
When children discover a magical coin that grants them half of each thing they wish for, they have adventures and trouble.

The Roald Dahl Audio Collection: Includes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James &;; the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Enormous Crocodile &; The Magic Finger
We have listened to almost all of Roald Dahl's children's books. Humorous, magical, and often downright strange--the books definitely appeal to my young boys' interests.

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon
This was one of those books that was short and enjoyable enough that my kids have listened to it more than once. My kids both listened to and read the chapter book versions of these delightful stories.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
This story has adventure, mystery, and talking animals--a good combination for my boys.

Princess Academy
The whole family loved this book. It is one of my favorites, and even my boys who were initially turned off by the word "princess" found themselves caught up in the magic of "quarry speech."

The Wind in the Willows
My mischievous boys for some reason love hearing about protagonists who get into trouble--and Mr. Toad is very good at getting into trouble! And the kids stretched their vocabulary a bit along the way as we listened to this classic book.

The Chronicles of Narnia (Series)
These books were my absolute favorite growing up, so I was pleased that my kids enjoyed them as well. We listened to all seven books and were sad when we finished the series. Though there are some dark moments in this series, we love that good always triumphs in the end!

Anne of Green Gables
This was another one of my all-time favorites that I "forced" upon my kids. I told them that if they didn't like the book after the first 10 minutes we could turn it off. But they loved hearing about Anne and her big imagination.

Stuart Little , Charlotte's Web by White , and Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
All three books we listened to by E.B. White were charming. The humor is subtle and the writing is clever. There is a reason these books have stood the test of time.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle  , Ramona Quimby, Age 8 CD (series)
Another set of books from childhood that I shared with my kids were those by Beverly Cleary. My boys enjoyed the Mouse and the Motorcycle series as well as several of the Ramona books.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Jim Dale)
This classic book is another with layers of meaning that make it enjoyable for both kids and adults. Jim Dale's fantastic narrating make it accessible and entertaining for kids of all ages.

The Fairy-tale Detectives
This is a modern twist on classic fairy-tales that my kids had fun with. They have only listened to the first book in the series so far, but they were begging for more when we finished this.

Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries
My boys enjoy trying to solve mysteries alongside Encyclopedia Brown. The many, short episodes make this audiobook good for shorter drives around town.

The Story of Dr. Doolittle 
It's hard to believe it has been nearly 100 years since this cute children's book was written. My kids loved hearing about Dr. DoLittle and his adventures.

Indian in the Cupboard
Who hasn't dreamed at some point of toys coming to life? Omri finds out things aren't quite simple when a magic cupboard brings his plastic toy Indian to life.

Tinkerbell Chapter Books (Disney Fairies Collection #5: Tink, North of Neverland; Beck Beyond the Sea)
These books were a random series we pulled off of the shelf to appease my 3-year-old daughter who felt that she never got a turn to choose the audiobook (which was true). Surprisingly, even my boys enjoyed the stories--and the stories do have positive messages.

The Light Princess 
This is an old classic about a girl who is cursed by a fairy to be "light." This means she is literally lightweight--she would float off like a balloon if she weren't tied down. And she is also light-minded--she laughs at everything.

Pippi Longstocking
This is another old classic that has stood the test of time. Pippi is a funny, mischievous, entertaining little girl that will get your kids laughing.

One challenge with an audiobook is that you can't edit out language or other content as easily as you can when you read the book aloud. Some of the books above do have occasional profanity. I usually try to check out the website www.commonsensemedia.com to determine if the content is appropriate for my children before checking out a new book. Other times if a situation comes up in a book that is contrary to what I have taught my children, we discuss it and take it as a learning opportunity--that's a benefit of listening to books together which is harder to do when children read on their own. But the wonderful thing about audiobooks is that my children have been exposed to great stories which would otherwise be outside their reading or interest levels. I'm excited to try out even more books as my kids get older. We haven't even started the Harry Potter series, which are some of my favorites. I would love to hear more recommendations in the comments if you have any favorite audiobooks/read-alouds!

7.05.2014

Summer Reading Programs--Earn Free Books!

Hello again, and apologies for our long absence. Even though I have finished my first year of officially homeschooling, things still don't ever really settle down when you have four young children! (Or in the case of my sister who writes this blog with me--5 children!). We haven't forgotten this blog, but we probably won't be updating as much as we have in the past. Still, I wanted to pop in and share a few fun tidbits about summer reading.

Summer is halfway over and my kids have loved participating in summer reading programs. My kids love to read, so they don't need the motivation, but they still like keeping lists of the books they have read and marking off how much time they have spent reading. Our local libraries give toys, books, and patches as prizes for reading and also sponsor fun programs for the kids. The library should definitely be your first stop for summer reading--programs vary by library district and state--but I have never been to a library that didn't offer some sort of summer reading program for kids--and many offer great programs for adults, too.

A few books my kids have earned as prizes for summer reading

Some commercial companies also sponsor nationwide summer reading programs The two we have participated in  this year that I would like to share with you are the Pottery Barn Kids Summer Reading Challenge and the Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Program.

For the Pottery Barn Kids Challenge, your child must read at least 8 books from a designated list. You can print out the list at home or pick up bookmarks in store with the list of books. We were able to find most of these books through our local library. They also have the books for sale at Pottery Barn Kids so if you like to visit the store, you can browse and read some while you are there. They also host weekly storytimes at the stores--check your local store for details. We loved discovering a few new favorite books from the summer reading challenge list, such as the picture book The Day the Crayons Quit .
When your child has read 8 books, you can visit a store and let an employee know that the child completed the challenge. Then they will give your child a certificate and a free book. The books my children choose among were a random assortment of clearance books--the selection will probably vary by the store. This challenge ends July 17th or "while supplies last."

For the Barnes and Noble Reading program, you must read any 8 books and write whom you would recommend each book to and why. Then, you can go choose from a selection of books as a prize. The choices of prizes are listed in the reading log so the kids can pick out their book ahead of time. Then, you just take the completed reading log and the book the child picked out to the checkout counter and they will scan both items and give the child the free book. Barnes & Noble also hosts storytimes and other fun events for kids if you want to make more of an outing from your visit. My son picked out the bookSideways Stories from Wayside School as his prize and he loved it so much--he has already read it through twice. This summer reading program goes through September 2nd.

So, what has been on their reading lists this year--here is a sample of some of the favorite books of each of my children:
Son #1 (independent reader, reads short chapter books):The Spiderwick Chronicles , The Magic School Bus Chapter Books , Classic Starts™: Treasure Island
Son #2 (independent reader of picture books and easy chapter books): Pickles To Pittsburgh , Moonshot, How Things Work 
Daughter #1 (doesn't read independently but loves to be read to): Ladybug Girl , Madeline , An Elephant and Piggie Books
Daughter #2 (baby--likes interactive board books): In My Nest, Pat the Bunny

Be sure to check out some of our reading lists for different ages and holidays we have shared in the past. And we'd love to hear any comments with your favorite books you have read recently.