Archive for Home Life

What to Do with Summer Vacation, Part 7: Audiobooks

At our house, summer is prime audiobook time.  We love reading silently and aloud, but one of our favorite things to do is to just sit down, turn on an audiobook, and color or do puzzles.  We buy a lot of Dover historical coloring books for school, and when we sorted through our school bins at the end of the year, I pulled out all of the half-completed coloring books and put them in a stack (along with our beloved Prismacolors) for easy, breezy summer coloring sessions.  I’m a big believer in not forcing writing too early, and I’m a big fan of developing those writing muscles through coloring and drawing.  No pre-writing worksheets here–just quality colored pencils, lots of scratch paper and coloring books, and audiobooks!

Here are some of our current favorites.  (See here for my suggestions–and Anna’s–from a few years ago.)  Don’t forget to check your library’s overdrive or Hoopla Digital to stream many of these for free!

Swallows and Amazons is our family’s favorite series.  At this point, it’s up there with Narnia in how it is shaping our family culture.  Set in the Lake District in England in the 1930s, it follows the adventures of two groups of siblings whose parents have allowed them to mess around in sailboats during their summer holidays.  Further along in the 12 book series, we meet new characters, and they have other adventures (building an igloo over the winter holidays, mining for gold, saving birds along a river, accidentally going to sea), but the common thread is their delightful imagination.  I can’t tell you how much I love the parents in these books (some of my favorites in all of literature), too.

We read/listened to The Cricket in Times Square for a summer book club with friends last week, and this sweet story of talking animals who help a struggling newsstand hits all the same notes of our beloved Charlotte’s Web.  My ten year old finds it hilarious, and my four year old came home from book club and took my phone up to my room and proceeded to listen through the book one and a half more times in one sitting.  The girls want to listen to it every night.  I think we’re approaching obsession level.

Okay, this is the book cover for The Railway Children, which you should all own, but you don’t need to buy the audiobook–get it from free at loyalbooks, where it’s read for free (thanks to the librivox project) by Karen Savage.  I prefer the loyalbooks interface to librivox itself, but you can search for it both places.  This volunteer reader does justice to one of my all-time favorite children’s books.  When their father is unjustly imprisoned for a crime, three children in Edwardian England have to move with their mother to the countryside, where they make friends and have adventures in and around the nearby railway station.  Delightful sibling dynamics, fun side characters, and a wonderfully happy ending.

E. Nesbit was not a part of my childhood, but she’s quickly becoming one of our family’s favorite authors.  Five Children and It is more fantasy than The Railway Children, with a sand fairy who grants wishes to a family of children, one per day.  Of course the wishes never turn out as the children intend, and all sorts of crazy adventures follow!  Because there’s a good mix of brothers and sisters, this one captures the attention of my son and my daughters.  (Sarah Mackenzie of Read-Aloud Revival explains how to get this particular recording-and many other classics-for cheap from Audible.  Or find it for free at your library!)

My girls just love, love, love All-of-a-Kind Family (and its sequels), read by Suzanne Toren.  Following the adventures of a Jewish family of five girls in turn-of-the-century New York City, this series is both sweet, funny, engaging, and a great look into a different culture than ours.  I know for a fact that you can stream it on Hoopla.

All four of my kids adored The Wizard of Oz when we read it together this spring.  And they find Anne Hathaway’s audio version hilarious.  She does great voices and really brings the story to life.  I’m still searching for an equally engaging reader for the next few books in the series.

And I might have done this before, but I want to put in a big plug for KayRay Reads to You.  She is lady who loves to read aloud, and she has recorded sooo many great books (for free!) on librivox (public domain books) and her own website (newer books–note, she doesn’t always edit out the coughs and things, which we don’t mind since it makes them feel real to us).  You can subscribe to her podcast in itunes or just visit her site to download your favorites.  My son is perpetually listening through her Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy and has recently gotten into the Dark is Rising series, and my girls love Betsy-Tacy (and sequels) as much as I do, thanks to KayRay.  She has a great Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and…well, I’ll stop myself.  Go visit her site.  It’s a treasure trove of great children’s literature.


Does your family use audiobooks?  What are your favorites?



Posted in Family Traditions, Home Life, Homeschooling, Reading | 1 Comment

What to Do with Summer Vacation, Part 4: Food

Okay, friends, after three days of talking, I want to spend a few days sharing some ideas and resources.  With the easy, breezy summer schedule, my kids’ tummies are suddenly on need-to-eat-nonstop mode.  We’ve talked about snacks on the blog before, so I just want to re-share a few of those posts, since it was four years ago:

Bethany’s Favorite Healthy Snacks

Emily’s Favorite Healthy Snacks (check out the comments section, too)

Anna’s Favorite Healthy Snacks

A Hidden Art Friday Round-up of fun snack ideas

And we do have a pinterest board dedicated to snacks.


And as a preview to what I’ll be talking about tomorrow, this year, I’ve gotten some new inspiration for cooking with my kids from a couple cooking-themed kids’ subscription boxes.  Raddish Kids has more dinner-themed recipes, while Kidstirs has a variety of meals and snacks.  Both are pricey, but if you have grandparents asking for gift ideas (or if you’re in a public school charter like ours that lets you spend your funds on educational subscriptions), I’d recommend checking them out.  Yes, my kids can cook in the kitchen with me any time, but the kit does the organizing work for you and feels more special.  Both kits are geared towards kids and have cute designs and fun little extras along with the recipes.  You have a shopping list, but the groceries themselves are not provided.  My kindergartner was the official recipient of both subscriptions, but her 8 year old sister often helps, her four year old sister watches, and her ten year old brother will sometimes lend a hand.  Here’s the lowdown on both (and I’m not sponsored by either, so I’m giving you my honest opinion):

Raddish Kids features three laminated, fold out recipes around a central theme each month.  Kits are $24 apiece with free shipping (with a slight discount if you get a 6- or 12- month subscription).  In the first kit, your child gets an apron, and each month, there’s a patch to sew on to show they’ve mastered those recipes.  Ingredients are fairly common, and directions are very clear.  I like that the pages fold out so that you can see the ingredient list and the directions all on one page without having to flip back and forth.  The back often features a special skill that your child can develop or gives you information about a particular ingredient.  There’s often a little activity to go with the theme (for Chinese month, we made little paper lanterns), and they always include one kitchen tool (which have all held up so far) to help with the recipes.  I have a fairly well-stocked kitchen, accessory-wise, but we do now have some new tools (like a dumpling press) that we didn’t have before and now use often.  Taste-wise, these recipes have almost universally been a hit with my kids, and only one was too bland for me.  They are truly from-scratch recipes, with no dumping cream-of-something soup over a chicken and calling it cooking.  Recently my daughter and I went through all 18 of the recipes we’d tried, and there were only two that we didn’t want to keep (one, a spaghetti sauce, was tossed only because we all prefer my husband’s family recipe, and the other, chicken tenders breaded with cornflakes, was fine but just not particularly better than my other baked chicken tender recipe).  A couple of them, including pork dumplings and beef stir-fry, were such big hits that they’re now in our regular meal rotation.  My girls made the blueberry muffins for breakfast this morning.  Also, the website has a wealth of resources of which we have only scratched the surface.  They are very homeschool-friendly, with lesson plans for many ages, they have a special American Heritage Girls badge kit, and they have adapted recipes for special diets available.  We only have a peanut allergy in our family, so we haven’t needed to adapt any of them, but it’s nice to know that we could if we had to.  The only con for me was that the recipe cards are hard to store, but I see that they now have a binder with pockets that we could get to slide the cards into if we wanted.

Kidstir also provides three recipes around a theme each month.  A single kit is $20 plus shipping, with a discount if you buy a multiple month subscription. There are only 12 kits available, so after a year, you’d just be getting repeat boxes, unlike Raddish kids, which creates new kits each month.  In the Kidstir box, you get two kid-sized cooking tools, and often they’ll include little decorative things (flag toothpicks for finger food, etc).  The recipe pages are not laminated, so you can’t just wipe spills clean, and the ingredients and recipes are scattered across a couple separate pieces of paper, forcing you to flip a page back and forth while cooking, which I dislike, but they’re already hole-punched to put into your binder, which has all the categories of a common cookbook.  I like that my daughter is literally building her cookbook each month, and it’ll be easy to add in additional recipes as she continues to spend time in the kitchen.  They also have educational pages and several online resources on the website.  My kids loved the “eat a rainbow” charts so much that I keep printing off more from the website so they can continue to keep track of their fruit and vegetable intake. Nutritionally, the recipes are healthy but not too healthy, if you know what I mean, and they’re pretty kid-friendly, not pushing them too far out of their comfort zone.  Last night we munched on kale chips that we made from one of their recipes, and that is a big deal, because five out of the six of us loathe kale in other forms.  Because a lot of them are snacks and not dinner recipes, we haven’t gotten around to making all of them yet, but my girls are definitely enthusiastic to try more.  I think these kits are really fine, but because I like the layout of Raddish better, I’d give a slight edge to Raddish.  I’m mean, if you’re up for spending $24 a month on cute cooking inspiration in the first place.

And of course, I’m a big fan of letting the kids browse my cookbooks for a fun-looking recipe and then trying it together!

What do you do about food with your family over the summer?

Posted in Good Food, Home Life | Leave a comment

What to Do with Summer Vacation, Part 3

Happy Wednesday!  This week, I’m tackling the reasons many moms dread summertime, and what we can do about it.  I’ve already talked about accepting that adjusting to a new routine can be bumpy and the need to get to the root of bratty behavior.  But I also think a lot of us just feel pressure to achieve a checklist of activities in order to win the “good mom” prize at the end of the summer.

My friends, we have to tune out the world’s ideas about summer break.  If we are home with our children, they simply don’t need to have a fully-scheduled summer.  I was really convinced of the value of not overscheduling my kids’ summer break when we read Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child a few years back.  Kids thrive when we leave them to their own devices to use their imagination.  Yesterday, my thirdborn breezed into my room, where I was sitting and desperately speed-prereading one of the four new books my big kids had picked up at the library that I hadn’t read before, and she told me that she and her sisters and the neighbor boys had just played “the best game ever!” Apparently they had set up a palace in someone’s garage, and each had described in minute detail the kind of room that they had in said palace.  Then they had adventures in the palace for the whole afternoon.  This is the kind of idyllic childhood summer vacation that we read about in Betsy-Tacy or Swallows and Amazons or The Moffats.

Unfortunately, there often aren’t neighbor kids to play with.  Since most moms around me work year-round, summer camp is the norm.  I spent the most miserable summer of my life in college working at a Camp Adventure in my hometown, and it was not really a camp (not a tent in sight) nor an adventure but rather big kid daycare.  Sure, we made lanyards and fished in an empty pond with hot dogs stuck on fishhooks and swam in the community pool twice a week, but there were no useful skills taught, no quality mentoring (because it was 11 campers to one college student leader), nothing that kids couldn’t do by themselves at home.  I’m sure most of the kids there never knew anything different, and I do realize that it was necessary for working parents to have their kids somewhere safe for the summer, but I came out of that summer determined never to send my own children to such a place.

Another huge summer commitment (more popular among the sahms around here because it’s often only for a half day) is the summer sports camp.  I used to sign my son up for one or two weeks of baseball or soccer camp every summer, buying into the idea that this would jump start his skills for the fall season.  He enjoyed them fine, but this summer, he didn’t want to do either, my daughter chose to pass on ballet camp, and my little girls don’t even want to do swimming lessons.  I spent several weeks this spring trying to convince them all to do something until I realized that I could just save myself a lot of money (four kids in sports gets pricey fast!) and stress if I let them just stay home, swim in our neighborhood pool, and run around on the mountainside with the neighbor kids.  My husband has plans to take them hiking, we’ll spend hundreds of hours at the pool, and since none of them are star athlete material, anyway, I don’t think they’re missing too much by eschewing formal sports for a few months.

Oh, and don’t forget all the catch-up or get-ahead schooling that the Tiger Moms among us have planned for our kids this summer. Kumon classes, extra workbooks (common core aligned, of course), and among homeschoolers, all the stuff we didn’t finish during the school year. I do have some schooly-type stuff that I want my kids to do each day, and I do want us to keep up with piano practice.  And we went to the library this weekend and loaded up on books about/set in Africa for our family summer reading program (we’re doing the Read the World one at Simple Homeschool).  So I’m not saying that we can’t do anything educational all summer, but it’s totally possible to keep our kids’ minds active through fun activities rather than dull ones.  One of my friends asked me a couple weeks back whether the language arts workbooks she’d gotten for her kids for the summer looked good, and I wrote back to tell her that honestly, I thought they’d get more out of just reading aloud/listening to audiobooks as a family while coloring (which is a more fun way to develop fine motor skills than writing in a workbook).  (More on that later!)

Phew!  After telling you all that, I want to assure you that if you WANT to send your kids off to VBS or soccer camp or even the cheesy parks and rec “adventure camp,” you’re not a bad mom.  Some kids absolutely thrive on going out and doing, doing, doing, and if that is your kid, go for it!  This post is mostly intended to reassure the moms who don’t particularly want to that they don’t NEED to do anything formal this summer.  I needed to have my homeschool mentor from our charter school tell me just that, so I’m passing along the message to you.  If running your kids to five different camps in a three week period is causing you stress, your kids don’t have to do all those activities.  Have a loose routine, read lots of books, get lots of sunshine, and enjoy your kids!  As a mom to a tween who is acting more moody and tweeny every week, I am so aware that my kids are growing up so fast, and I don’t want to waste our time together on stupid activities that the world tells me I need to have them do.  Those summer bucket lists on pinterest totally stress me out, and this summer, I’ve made the conscious choice to ignore them and just do interest-led activities with my crew.

What are you doing with your kids this summer? 


Posted in Home Life | Leave a comment

What to Do with Summer Vacation, Part 2

Hi, dear readers!  I’m taking advantage of our first week of summer break here to talk about the struggle many moms have in adjusting to summer vacation.  Yesterday I had a few thoughts on adjusting our family routine to summer mode.  Often, summer break is daunting because everything is disrupted, but that’s not the only reason many moms complain about summer.

If we’re dreading spending time with our little darlings because they’re little brats, we need to work on character formation, ours and theirs. Many wise parenting experts talk about the need to lean in to the child who is driving you crazy, because often she is the one who needs you the most right now.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, summer is a great time to do this.  If you need some encouragement or inspiration in this area, check out the What Have You podcast from Rachel Jankovic and Bekah Merkle the next time you have to sit and fold towels or something.  I need to re-listen to episode 13, where they talk about showing our kids what kind of people we want them to become by living it out ourselves.  I want my kids to have a servant’s heart, to be helpful and cheerful in their service to our family and others.  And in the podcast, Rachel says, “I need to be blessing my children at the same rate that I want them to be blessing people.”  This has been so convicting for me!  When a little person sticks a book in front of my face while I’m in the middle of writing a blog post (not that that has happened AT ALL in the past half hour), I can respond with frustration: “Not now!  I’m telling other people how to be good moms!” (ha!) Or I can respond with grace: “Okay, let me finish this thought, and we’ll sit down and read two stories in your Busytown storybook.  Then we’ll go find your sisters and see if you can play with them.”  The former response makes me a double hypocrite–to you all, and to my kids–and the second graciously shows my kids that yes, they are my priority, but adults do not always drop everything they’re doing to cater to every little whim.  If I respond with impatience to my kids, why should I expect them to respond graciously to me?  I’ve often commented that my kids are little reality checks in my progress of sanctification, showing me what the state of my heart really looks like.  These next 10 or 12 weeks are an opportunity for me to slow down and dig out the yucky things in my heart and my kids’ hearts and replace them with the fruit of the Spirit.  Now that’s a vision for this summer that I can get behind!

Do you struggle with bad behavior during the summer?  What has been your best technique for dealing with it?

Posted in Home Life, Parenting | Leave a comment
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