Thursday, January 31, 2013

Music Compostition: Noteflight

I just wanted to take a minute to mention something my daughter has been enjoying this week. It is a free music composition website called noteflight. You do have to register, but it is free unless you want to sign up for their full featured program.

If you have a kid who is into music, this seems pretty fun, and yet another way to be creative. What an easy way to make music! Heck, you could compose a symphony! If music is on your radar it's worth taking a look.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Boy Books for the Reluctant Reader

So, in the quest to get my son to start to love to read on his own, I have done what many parents of boys do and found myself lowering my expectations. Clearly, he doesn't really enjoy all of the same books as my daughter (the "girl and her horse" books would be an example of books he really doesn't want to read). They do enjoy some of the same reading material. They both love the Percy Jackson series, the Harry Potter Series and they are both enjoying the Ranger's Apprentice series. However, it's taken my son a long time to work up to the Ranger's Apprentice books. I read most of the Percy Jackson books to him, and the first time he looked at Ranger's Apprentice he put it down. He just clearly wasn't a fluid enough reader yet and it took him so long to get through it he would get lost and confused in the story. I'm glad he's finally reached a level when he can enjoy it, but in the meantime, there have been a great many books that I would never have chosen for him. Some of these he found in the library himself, and some he got through word of mouth from his friends.

Let me preface this by saying that by the time he was ready to start reading on his own, we had already gone through all of the Magic Tree House books, the Chronicles of Narnia and several other good books together. What I am showcasing here are books they can read on their own, and more importantly, books that they might WANT to read.

The first series he started to read on his own was Geronimo Stilton. Really, I never would have thought a mouse would have been his thing, but like these books he did. Mostly they are like comic books. Tons of illustrations and speech and thought bubbles. The books can be nice and thick and I think that lends to the "YES, I can read this" factor. Think lots of silly cheese jokes and a cartoon style. Thankfully, completely clean and little violence. Geronimo always figures out the mystery and saves the day.

There are several graphic novels out there that are fun and some of them cover historical events and folk tales. I won't list any of them here, but if your library has a Graphic Novel section, check it out.

Next, a friend turned my son on to a series called "Beast Quest" by Adam Blade. The first book in the series is called "Ferno the Fire Dragon". This is a series of relatively easy books in the fantasy genre. Each book is short, no more than a hundred pages, and the plot lines are simplified, but I think it is well done. There are many books in the series, so your boy could be reading these for a while. The hero, Tom, is sent on a quest by a wizard and he has to save the kingdom. There is a nice twist in that he doesn't have to kill the marauding beasts, but rescue them from the control of an evil man.

We took a turn into the world of goofy nine year old potty humor from there. The next series he got hung up on was Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. This series really is the kind of thing two nine year old boys might come up with if they just sat together and made up a silly story. This is NOT quality literature, but I figure if they enjoy it, what the heck. It's full of pictures, silly comic strips and ridiculous plot lines. Still, for some boys, the more ridiculous the better. Also, there are underwear and poop jokes. What could be better, right?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is another series along a similar vein. A somewhat normal kid gets into all kinds of trouble, which is never his fault of course, and he has to put up with an older teenage brother and a bratty toddler brother in the meantime. These books have many illustrations and side notes, but I think the Wimpy Kid books are somewhat better written than Captain Underpants. They are also longer with a few less pictures and a few more words. The fact that there is a movie made from these books could also be a bonus.

Let me just say that I am a little confused about the intended audience for this and the next two series I am going to list here. The main character of Wimpy Kid is a Middle Schooler, and so there is also some stuff in there about this person "liking" that person, and being embarrassed in front of the girls they "like". This isn't material that I think would generally interest a nine year old and yet the reading level seems to me to be below that of a typical Middle Schooler. Maybe I just have a skewed idea of what Middle Schoolers like to read. Even though my son doesn't "get" that kind of stuff yet, it didn't bother him. 

Two very similar book series that have come out recently are Wonkenstein: The Creature From My Closet by Obert Skye (also Potterwookie) and The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angelburger. If your child likes the Wimpy kid series they will probably like these. They are all very much the same: little drawings and side notes, written in journal style. If your child is into Star Wars, that would probably help with the Origami Yoda books. These books have an added bonus of some instructions for how to make various origami Star Wars creatures. Overall, however, they are just as goofy.

For the sports buffs I want to throw in a couple series that don't quite fit my "goofy" theme.  The Baseball Card Adventures (Honus and Me, Babe and Me, etc.) might be a good fit for sports minded kids. In these books the main character touches a particular baseball card and goes back in time to meet and help that player. These are short books and an easy read and my son loved them even though we are not heavy into baseball. These are, in fact, educational, but the kids don't have to know that.

Another good and easy sports themed series is Winning Season by Rich  Wallace. These are stories about various different boys and sports. They are easy chapter books involving baseball, soccer, football, basketball and running.

I'll end by listing some of the magazines we get that I find are often more appealing than a full book but are still technically reading:

*Sports Illustrated for Kids (Again, for the sports lover. I'm not in love with all of the advertisements, but... whatever.)
*National Geographic for Kids (This is an excellent magazine full of information about all kinds of things.)
* Ranger Rick (This is mostly for the nature lover, but fun and full of good information. We've found that sometimes NG Kids and Ranger Rick overlap a little bit.)
* There are some good magazines also from Cobblestone & Cricket Publishing. We get several of these  and they range in topic from science to literature to cultures (Faces, Cricket, Odyssey, Muse, Dig, Calliope, etc.)

If you have any more, please feel free to comment. I keep thinking of more things, but this post has gotten long enough! Also, the books I've listed are obviously what we have available here in the United States. It can be so hard to get some kids reading, I hope this helps someone out!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Overcoming inertia

Well, it’s a new year, and it seems like people everywhere are looking to a new start to things. Being terribly predictable, I am trying yet again to lose some weight. Also predictably, everyone else seems to be trying to get into shape as well. Getting a stationary bike at the gym is a hit or miss proposition every January, and don’t get me started on the traffic or the parking. I’m constantly caught between wanting to get the workout in and cringing at the thought of the crowds. This has resulted in rather more walks at local parks, which feed my soul in a way a gym never could anyway. The weather has been mostly cooperative and I’m proud to say I can actually jog a bit now, something I never could do before my foot surgeries, and I hope I can increase the duration of my little awkward jogs over the next few weeks.

(photos: winter harvest and balance?, something I saw on a walk)

I’m motivated to get my body moving at the moment, but getting my mind going on new lesson plans and blog topics has been a bit more challenging. It’s not writers block precisely, but rather a certain inertia, a reluctance to put anything down on paper… and maybe a small lack of inspiration.  Deadlines are calling in the form of promises made and I need to deliver, so I am hoping I can shake the dust off my writing muscles here and get the brain as well as the body into gear.  It’s one thing to sit around pushing the kids to do things, but it’s harder to find time to do things for myself and do them well.

Still, pushing the kids can be exhausting (I know, know, a true homeschool guru would only be giving gentle nudges and the kids would do the rest. Right? I'm not that good.) You ever have a lesson that goes like this?

I have days like that with my "smart one". Sometimes I can’t believe the vacant looks I get. Patience is the buzzword on those days.

 Other days look more like this:

Happy, learning people. Days like that you can pat your own back and take credit for your children’s happiness and brilliance. It’s all because you rock and homeschooling rocks and… well, you know.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. 

Take it easy this January. Hopefully I'll get myself in gear here soon. In the meantime, breathe through the bad days and hum through the good. Savor the small blessings. It will all work out in the end.