Teaching Your Children – and Yourself! – Shakespeare

My kids have had the fantastic experience of performing in a Shakespeare play with our local homeschool group so we already had our eye on the Bard, but I loved experiencing “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare” by Ken Ludwig.  This is a hands-on, BRAIN-on approach to reading, interpreting, understanding, reciting, and memorizing key passages from the Bard’s best works.  One chapter builds on the next to move from plays that are easier to understand to more complex stories as you and your children get an introduction to and overview of Shakespeare’s work.

The focus of the book is memorizing the key passages.  I really like the memorization steps involved because I feel like to be able to recite something from memory makes it your own in a completely different way from simply being familiar with it.  My kids are proud of being able to recite passages from Shakespeare and love to use them in conversation or when discussing another subject.  It’s something they don’t get a lot of from other sources, so this was a great addition to our homeschooling lives.

I also think the entire structure of the book is set up in a great way to work and learn right along with my kids, which is their favorite part of homeschooling (well, that and the fact that their young brains memorized the passages faster than my old brain did!).


** This book was provided to me for the purposes of this review by Random House.  The opinions are my own. **

Merry Christmas Box

Most years, there is some part of our family that we can’t see on Christmas for one reason or another.  This year, my dad had jury duty in December, so the kids have been waiting for Pappy and Grandma N. to come and visit for one last Christmas this season… they finally arrived this evening!


We had a nice evening of chatting and present-ripping-open.  KarateKid was especially pleased with his brand-new, serious-quality triple beam balance.  GoGoGirl liked her new princess dolls and the book Press Here by Herve Tullet.

If you haven’t read this one, you should – and this picture explains why:


Press Here is a delightfully interactive book, and in an age when that means electronic chips and noises and QR codes, this simple book draws upon the magic of imagination and anticipation. “Press here.” Tap the yellow dot, and on the next page – two yellow dots. Press again? Now there are three. Gently rub the dot on the left – and by the next page, it has turned red. The grand finale comes as the reader is entreated to clap her hands, again, again – and each time she does, the dots get bigger, and bigger, and bigger.  That’s what’s happening in the picture… GoGoGirl is clapping and laughing herself silly.  We read the book at least four times tonight, and she would have gladly read it again and again.

After all the dust and paper had settled, while we were happily looking through our presents, KarateKid set his eye on something else: the big box the presents arrived in.  He covered it with duct tape, tore into it with scissors, and produced a pirate dinghy, announcing: “This box is the best gift of all!”


Some things never change.  Merry Christmas, again!

Book Release: Leaves of Flame

Here’s what I love about Facebook, Twitter, and the internet in general: I can stay in light and occasional contact with dozens of people who might otherwise lose touch with me.  I can keep track of the most important happenings in their lives, and fill them in on mine.  Sometimes this means learning about a wedding or a baby, or an illness or a death; sometimes it’s just a late-night chat conversation with a friend from chemistry class, and the realization that we can really be there to support each other even after all this time and across the miles.

Today, one of the people who worked in the math department with both my mom and me in the mid 90s is celebrating the release of yet another novel, and I’m pleased to help him spread the word.  I have read every book he’s written, so far, and am looking forward to reading his latest release.


Let’s Go Camping… Mini-Theme

Can you go camping… without actually camping?  We did…

One among many plans to be displaced around here in September was the long-awaited Navigators’ campout for the kids, which had been scheduled for the Friday after Labor Day.  The counties were still under a state of emergency then, and backyards were swamplands, so we couldn’t go.  But I had planned some camping activities for the week, to help my kids prepare for sleeping outside and cooking over a fire, and we had already started our camping theme before the storm hit.

Our book basket included Maisy Goes Camping, The Bear Scouts, Bears in the Night, Just Me and My Dad, Franklin in the Dark, What’s Under the Bed, Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping, The Chizzywink and the Alamagoozlum, and The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.  These picture books were great for GoGoGirl and helped give her a starting point for talking about being scared in the dark on a campout, especially Franklin and What’s Under the Bed.  KarateKid liked the humor in Bear Scouts and Me and My Dad.  We read and sang The Fox Went Out several times each morning and listened to different versions of the song.

For science that week, we studied nocturnal animals, read from several of our nature books about them, and sketched a bat from the specimen my sister carefully preserved for us.

Before reading our books on nocturnal animals, I asked the kids to tell me what they knew about nocturnal animals.  As I expected, KarateKid had a good grasp on the concept, and GoGoGirl really didn’t.  At one point in our discussion, I turned to her and asked, “Do you know any other nocturnal animals?”  She told me, “Dinosaurs!”  I paused.  After a moment to decide how to handle this response, I went with a gentle, “Honey, dinosaurs aren’t alive anymore.”

GoGoGirl, hands on hips: “You have GOT to be kidding me!”  There’s a pause, and the look of gears turning in her head.  Then, with indignation: “WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?!” as if I’ve spoken some shocking revelation about cute and cuddly dinos who were alive just last week!  Moments like that are why I adore being home with them and being in on the nitty gritty of learning that dinosaurs aren’t alive anymore – split my sides laughing and loving her.

Other resources we used included a Camp Out! playlist I put together on Spotify, which included lots of fun camping songs and several versions of The Fox Went Out.  We also used several pieces of the Camping Preschool Pack from Homeschool Creations (especially the counting cards and 3-part cards) and some from 2 Teaching Mommies (they loved the roll-and-graph).


The kids also spent a lot of time this week playing with their dollhouse tent and several dolls, and using the playsilks to make a camping scene.  I love the brown “woods” fabric we have – it is silky and lovely, and was 50 cents at a garage sale about two summers before I even had kids.


The kids each made a construction paper and marker picture using collage and drawing techniques.  I cut several triangles and rectangles for GoGoGirl and helped showed her how they could be glued down to look like a tent – from there, I let their imaginations go!


These pictures were mostly inspired by Maisy Goes Camping, as GoGoGirl tried to imagine how many of her friends or animals could fit in that tent. POP! Out came Maisy!


We also made campfire handprint paintings – the kids loved this!  Start by painting the pinkie side of your hand brown, then stamp it on the paper twice, making an X shape to be the logs.  Next, paint the palm of your hand in reds, oranges, and yellows and stamp it down above the X to be the flames.


Naturally, we had special camping food too. We ate marshmallows and mini s’mores, pork and beans, and one delightful camping-themed Muffin Tin Meal!


I made roll-up sandwiches with whole wheat wraps, turkey, cheese, and carrots – when cut into sections, the kids think these make great logs! We also had little smokies on teeny weeny roasting forks, and goldfish crackers that we’d just caught in the stream. Washed it all down with bug juice, of course!


So, the kids got a week full of camping experiences, even if we never made it into that tent.

I’ll be sharing this post with stART, Read.Explore.Learn, What My Child is Reading, and Muffin Tin Monday.  Check out the links to find more creative activities!

Shibley Smiles Muffin Tin Monday at Muffintinmom.com

Learning The Tempest

Our small homeschooling community is lucky enough to have a couple of parents who are willing to put the love and energy into helping our kids put on a production of a Shakespeare play every spring (except last year, when their middle child was in the middle of college applications and visits).  This spring, we hope to perform The Tempest.  Serendipitously, that was the play our local theater group put on this week for Shakespeare-in-the-Park.

To prepare for seeing the play, the kids and I read aloud together the picture book version of Shakespeare: The Animated Tales: The Tempest which is an abridgment by Leon Garfield.  This was a great source – better than the Lambs’ prose retelling – because it included much of the actual dialogue from the original.  We spent a lot of time poring over it and discussing the language and tearing the lines apart or restating them, and as we worked through it, KarateKid in particular caught on to the flow of the language and enjoyed the story quite a bit.

After we worked through the book, we watched the half hour production in three clips on YouTube:


The kids were excited to take a picnic to the park and set up our chairs and blankets for a performance that started at 8 pm!  KarateKid had a good time and loved that he knew many of the most important lines, and I loved that he followed the plot so well.  There were scenes that had been omitted or glossed over in the abridged version, or times when the characters were not projecting/using microphones well, and KarateKid would trot over to the playground on the side and watch from the swings for a while.  But I loved that when Trinculo and Stephano and Caliban came out, he stood at his swing and then slowly walked toward the stage, drawn by the magnet of humor!

The Tempest

They liked the immediacy of the play in the park. Caliban came and sat in front of us in a trenchcoat until it was time to make his entrance… the kids cracked up about that. We sat with friends and saw other neighbors, and the kids loved being outside, with a group of interesting people, well past bedtime. (Except for the last 20 minutes, when it got a little TOO cold! But we made it.)


Watermelon Day – a Day Late!

August 3rd is National Watermelon Day.  Really.  (My kids say I make these things up!)

We managed to get out and buy a pair of watermelons on the 3rd – our grocery store even had seeded melons this year!  Unfortunately for the kids, the afternoon of the 3rd was filled with steady rain and I stood firm against the idea of them tearing apart a watermelon inside my house!  We ate slices of watermelon, read books about watermelon, and spit seeds off the front porch.  But the main event had to wait until the next day…

Watermelon Day 1

The kids’ favorite sensory activity of the summer is when I give them half a watermelon and let them dig into it with a variety of tools and their bare hands.  This year, we had a seeded watermelon and so the kids had the added challenge of trying to save as many of the black seeds as possible.

We had tools including: an ice cream scoop, a big mesh strainer, a scoop-size mesh strainer, a set of melon-baller tongs, a regular set of tongs, two wavy veggie cutters, funnels, measuring cups, scoops, plastic spreaders, plastic knives, a plastic strawberry huller, and a variety of bowls and bins and cups.

Watermelon Day 2

I posted about our watermelon exploring activity last year too, but we hadn’t talked about it in months.  When I told the kids on the 3rd that it was watermelon day, GoGoGirl immediately asked, “Are we going to open it on the little picnic table in the front yard and use those scoopers and smush it in our hands?”  This is obviously an activity well worth the mess, because it’s so much fun that it really sticks in their memories!

Our favorite watermelon book is Benjamin & Tulip by Rosemary Wells, which has, unfortunately, been out of print for years.  In this story, meek Benjamin has to walk under the tree where bossy Tulip is waiting to pounce on him and beat him up.  When Benjamin tries to walk home with a watermelon, he winds up with the melon on his head.  “You’re crusing for a bruising!” was part of our family’s lexicon because we loved this book so much.

Our copy is inscribed to me, with love from Mommy and Daddy, on my 4th birthday in 1980!  My copy originally came with a Weston Woods cassette with the story read aloud – with fantastic seed-spitting sound effects at the end.

I have been trying all week to track down a copy of this audio book – on cassette, cd, mp3, anywhere, and have been out of luck.  I have some friends scouting far-flung libraries for copies of the cassette, so hopefully my kids will be able to enjoy it soon.  If you happen to be reading this and have a copy to share… we would be so grateful!

African Tales: The Lion’s Deceit

My kids have a special love for tales from Africa – South Africa in particular, because that’s where my dad has lived and worked – but they enjoy many different African tales.  We were recently sent a copy of The Lion’s Deceit by Mpho Otukile to review.

A lazy lion goes against his real nature by tricking other animals to get some food without hunting.  Will the lion get away with his plot?

In this story, the lazy lion decides to lay low in his den and send out word (via the fox) that he is sickly.  One by one, the animals come to visit the sick lion, draw closer as he moans and groans, and are snapped up to be his dinner.  Eventually, the jackal is the one who realizes that although there are plenty of prints leading up to the lion’s den… there aren’t any leading away from it!  He spreads word to the rest of the animals and the jig is up.  The lazy lion has to return to hunting!

My kids enjoyed the story quite a bit, and we had a nice time talking about the moral of the story, as they saw it.  (“You can’t get away with being lazy!”)  It also stirred up a renewed interest in African tales and we pulled out several of the other books on our shelves.  That led to a great afternoon of comparing the various stories and picking our favorites.  KarateKid especially loves the always-clever jackal, and loves that he’s featured in this story.

Now, I’ll be honest: The Lion’s Deceit is obviously published by a small publisher; the illustrations are done on a computer and are a little off-putting to me, and the words are printed in a white-and-orange font.  (You can preview two pages of The Lion’s Deceit here.) The book itself is physically hard to open all the way flat, and some of the illustrations and occasionally bits of text are hard to make out down in the spine.  Even though we enjoyed the story, it’s not a very pleasing book in a physical sense.

However, I do really support what the author is doing.  From the book:

Mpho Otukile comes from Botswana, in the Southern part of Africa where she grew up listening to stories told by the village elders at night while sitting around an open fire.  As much as she was entertained, these stories also instilled some moral lessons about life.

The author now lives in Winnipeg, Canada and is writing these stories to pass them to her daughter and other children.

I have several good friends (and family!) who are published authors or are trying to get published.  I would much rather see stories coming out in any form; a slender paperback with computer illustrations is better than not hearing the story at all.  Mpho Otukile founded a small publishing company, Village Life Books, just to get these stories out there, and I support her efforts!  From her website:

Storytelling in Africa is maintained by oral tradition. The stories play a very important role in the lives of the children. They help solve problems and teach moral values. Without grandparents and elders to tell the stories, the stories are often lost.  Village Life Books provides a means to preserve these stories in a modern way.

We will certainly keep The Lion’s Deceit in our collection of African tales.  I look forward to the next release from Village Life Books (The Elephant’s Pride in 2012).  I would encourage any of my friends who might enjoy this tale to support Ms. Otukile and independent publishing in general by purchasing the $9.99 book directly from her website or from Amazon.  You can also pick it up from CreateSpace, where you can use coupon code 2LU4EXJM to get 10% off.

This review was sponsored by MamaBuzz and Village Life Books, who provided me with a copy of The Lion’s Deceit to review.  Thanks!