Monday, November 6, 2017

Awesome Early Chapter Book Series

With the onslaught of video games, after school activities, homework, and handheld devices constantly beckoning our kids, it's not hard to imagine why reading for fun often takes a backseat. My son, now 7, picked up reading at an early age, and I was thrilled to share my passion for the written word with him. However, his interest in reading waned as his world expanded to school, sports, friends, and of course, screens.

I eagerly brought home handfuls of books from the library, hoping to introduce him to the perfect series-- the one that would not only grab his attention, but keep it and encourage a lifelong love of reading. 

Oh how the mighty have fallen!

For over ten years, I've taught a wide variety of students, including those with significant dyslexia and ADHD, how to read and how to comprehend, and yet I couldn't inspire my own child!

Thankfully, after lots of trial and countless errors, we found four age-appropriate chapter book series that he really, truly enjoys, and that as a reading teacher, I think are fantastic for elementary students who know how to read but don't necessarily like doing so.

  1. The Data Set by Ada Hopper.
One requirement I have for an engrossing early chapter book is that it includes plenty of pictures. Because while our kids will insist they “aren't babies anymore,” I find over and over again that pictures engage kids and help them comprehend what they read, which is the goal of reading once you know how to read.

The Data Set series is about a group of whiz kids-- boys and girls-- who are interested in science and experiments. The vocabulary is what I would deem 'just right;' Hopper carefully introduces and reviews new words, but most of the words are familiar. The characters are diverse, and one even introduces basic Spanish to readers through conversations with his mother. The characters engage in easy-to-follow dialogue, and the storyline is entertaining, fresh, and quick-moving. This is truly a perfect series.

  1. Dragon Masters by Tracy West.

Dragons are all the rage these days (if you hadn't noticed), and I happened on this enchanting series while randomly skimming the library shelves. It's another one about a group of boys and girls who go on adventures, but this series takes place in a fantasy world with kings, queens, and pet dragons. There's a wizard (of course) who guides the new “dragon masters,” and it contains charming illustrations on almost every page. The plot is easy to understand, the story moves quickly, and the vocabulary is just right. Perfection!

  1. The Magic School Bus (by a variety of authors).
The Magic School Bus franchise has been around forever, but I'm specifically talking about the early chapter books. In the chapter book series, a classroom of elementary school students goes on adventures all over the world with their wacky teacher, “The Frizz,” and learn about anything from volcanoes to dinosaurs to the human body. The pictures are comprehensive and keep readers engaged and understanding the plot. New concepts are cleverly defined and reviewed throughout the book. This is a great series for curious readers who love learning as much as possible about whatever their current fixation may be.

       4. According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney.

My son mentioned his teacher was reading a Humphrey book to his second grade class. I hadn't heard of it, but since he said he liked it, I made a beeline to the library and checked out a few. The Humphrey series is about a cute class hamster named Humphrey who makes smart observations in the classroom and takes turns visiting different students' houses. The reader hears the story from hamster's perspective-- Humphrey is the narrator-- which is amusing to young readers. Again, there are plenty of pictures to break up the text and aid in comprehension.

Literacy experts stress the importance of reading comprehension as kids grow because generally in third grade, the focus at school transitions from learning to read to reading to learn. What the experts don't always address is how to help children enjoy reading to reduce battles at home and to avoid making reading feel like a chore. These four series hit the mark in our house, and I hope they help others in the same situation.  

What early book series do you love (besides Harry Potter)? What ones have been a hit with your students and/or kids? 

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Monday, October 16, 2017

Letting Go of Holiday Card Angst

It's fall, arguably the most gorgeous season of all, which can only mean one thing... golden leaves? plump pumpkins? Nope. MAKING HOLIDAY CARDS & the frantic attempts for the perfect photo.

[insert blood pressure spike here]

Let's take a deep breath together now... Innnnn....Outtttt...


Isn't it defeating to point of it all-- spreading good cheer-- to make the annual holiday card some kind of competition/stress case/source of insomnia? I've noticed over the last few years that the majority of cards we receive are professionally created and beautifully crafted. Nothing wrong with that. IF you enjoy it. After all, I love a great family photo, and I think the expense of getting them professionally done now and then is worth every penny.

BUT an annual formal family shoot with the intention of sharing it with everyone on our address list totally stresses me out. Planning the perfect time, place, outfits, and most challenging of all-- getting the kids to behave-- is the stuff of tension headaches and heavy drinking.


This year I've let my expectations go. We will still make a card, of course, but I have let go of the idea of the 'perfect' one.

Last Sunday, in fact, my husband asked, "should we take a photo now?" I looked at our clothes-- we happened to still be in church clothes-- not perfect, but not bad. The sun was out. The leaves were pretty. The kids were...well fed and relatively content.

"Why not?" I shrugged. While smiling and kneeling on the wet grass with wiggly children wasn't the most fun 10 minutes of my life, it wasn't so bad. I liked the spur of the moment feel because there was zero pressure and buildup.

Are the tripod results yielding my favorite photos of all time? Not so much. But all four of us are looking at the camera with some semblance of a smile on our faces with our eyes open. This year, it'll do.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Favorite Fall Shows

I'll admit it: I love a good show I can really sink my teeth into. In general I prefer comedies, but I'm not averse to the occasional drama or reality show.

Here are a few shows I'll carve out time for when I can this fall (usually OnDemand!).

1. This is Us
A rare drama in the Frantic Mama household. If you are one of the few people who has not yet watched this gem (which started last year), you are missing out. Such good acting. Such a cool concept (jumps around various time periods). Just. So. Good.

2. Young Sheldon
Why did they only show us 1 episode and then announce it won't really start until November? I don't know, but that one episode has piqued my interest. If you like the Big Bang Theory (and I do), then you'll probably like this one: it's all about young Sheldon (aptly named). It's not all snark and sarcasm; there's a real sweetness to it. Plus, the boy (in a good way) reminds me of my son, and any camaraderie I can get with that situation is embraced.

3. The Middle
What an underrated show! It's been around forever, so you'd be remiss to start anywhere but the beginning. I'm thrilled it's on for another season. The characters are SO REAL. This is one show (besides sports) FranticMamaHubby likes too.

4. Before the 90 Days
My guilty-not-so-guilty pleasure. Delicious in all its reality show glory. This is about couples spending time together before their 90 day visa begins (based on the main TLC show, 90 Day Fiance, about couples who meet abroad (or online) and then have 90 days to marry if one of them moves to the U.S. due to citizenship laws). These shows document-- quite realistically in my opinion-- what happens during such a unique, emotionally intense situation. I Can't Look Away. Don't make me.

5. I'm open.
No, that's not the name of a show. I really am open to suggestions. Someone mentioned there's another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm coming our way? Is this true? If so, sign me up! What about Portlandia? I think I'm all caught up unless there's a season 8 or 9? I don't want to miss out on any Women and Women First action. Anyway, I want to hear what you love to watch, so tell me!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

How to Make Glitter Slime

Yes, you read the title correctly: I'm writing one of my rare how-to posts.

But first, a little backstory: All summer, my daughter asked if we could make slime. She saw it on some silly kids channel online and was dead set on making her own. Plus, she loves anything having to do with mixing and measuring. All summer long, I put it off. "Sure, sure we can do some point." Well, all the sudden, it was the last day of summer break, and I felt pretty crummy-- we still hadn't made the darn slime.

I'm happy to report, however, I pulled up those shirtsleeves and we did it. We made slime. The incredible part was that for the recipe I found, we actually had all of the ingredients (there were only 3, but still).

Ready to show your kids you still have a little fun left in you?

Here's what you'll need:

Baking soda, glue, and contact lens solution.
4-6 oz. glue (we used the blue glitter kind, naturally; or, if you're using white glue, you can simply add glitter into the mixture).
1/2 tablespoon of baking soda (we used a little more)
1/4 -- 1/2 tablespoon contact lens solution (if the slime seems too sticky, add an extra tablespoon of this)
This is not a perfect science. Play around to get the consistency your kid likes. 

Here comes the tricky part-- NOT-- You mix it all in a bowl.

Mixing was her favorite part. 
We added more baking soda than the original recipe to make it thicker.

That's it! She got her slime, and I got...a sticky bowl and a happy kid. 

P.S. I used old dishcloths to scoop out the slime and throw it in the trash when she was finished. I didn't risk putting it down the sink and clogging everything up!

What "fun" activities did your kids convince you to do recently?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hummingbirds, Elmer's Glue, & an Umbrella

Yesterday, while in a waiting room, I had the chance to page through a magazine I've never read before: Birds & Blooms, all about, of course, birds and flowers.

This particular issue focused on one of earth's most magical creatures-- hummingbirds. Plus, it was the only magazine in the waiting area, so I opened it up.

Paging through the issue, I happened to land on an incredible true short essay that caught my attention. It made such an impact on me that I want to share the gist of it with all of you:

One day, the author noticed a tiny hummingbird nest on a tree in their yard in Arizona. The eggs must have been miniscule. A few days later, however, the nest and its two eggs were on ground. The mother hummingbird frantically flew around the fallen nest, clearly distraught. One of the baby birds didn't make it. The other egg, however, was still intact.

The author somehow thought to use Elmer's glue to help restore and secure the tiny nest to its tree branch. The mother hummingbird went right back to guarding her single egg. She didn't abandon it.

The mother and her nest were soon in for another challenge as a hailstorm was fast approaching. The author stood out in the hail to protect the nest using an umbrella. Eventually, the wind was too much for the umbrella and it snapped. For rest of the storm, the author used her hands to shield the nest. Miraculously, the egg and nest remained intact after the storm.

When the bee-sized baby bird emerged from its fragile egg, it appeared the mother and baby hummingbird knew how much this human had helped them. Hummingbirds are notoriously skittish, but these two happily buzz about the author and her husband. The baby has even perched on the author's shoulder.

I find this story remarkable for so many reasons. I love witnessing that fierce, instinctual mother-child protection. In this story, we see two versions of it-- with the mother hummingbird, and with the human.

I love that in a world so often filled with cruelty and sadness, one where everyone always laments how "busy" they are, someone devoted so much time and care to help one of earth's tiniest creatures.

And I love a happy ending.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama