Hidden Art Friday

Happy Friday! Today our library had a fun event where kids got to make homemade veggie pizzas for a snack. Whole wheat tortillas spread with cream cheese or hummus and spread with a bunch of yummy fixings. My kids were huge fans, and we have a new lunch option!

Posted in Good Food, Hidden Art Fridays | Leave a comment

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 6: Subscription Reviews for Older Kids

Happy Monday!  How is your (restful?) summer working out?  As I mentioned last week, we’ve been blessed to be part of a homeschool charter school that allows us to use our funds on educational subscriptions as well as curriculum, classes, and field trips.  There are so many cool STEM- and art-themed subscription box kits out there, and my big kids have really enjoyed spending their Friday afternoons on box kit activities rather than other, formal curriculum.  They’re also a great way to keep boredom at bay this summer!

Like I said in Friday’s review, I didn’t receive any of these for free from the publishers.  It’s so hard to know how decent a subscription really is until you’ve bitten the bullet and committed, so I’ll share our family’s opinions of a few of the options out there.  My criteria: For kits for my 10 year old, I’d really rather that he be able to do the activities pretty much on his own.  His are more science-themed, and I know that it’s my worst subject.  Big props to projects that work like they’re supposed to.  Duds just reinforce my frustration with science that dates back to failed experiments and demonstrations in my own childhood.  Some people want their science projects to be able to last; in our house, we set up the experiment/demonstration, play with it a few times, and toss it.  So I can’t comment on how sturdy they are.  For art activities, I also like things that my son can do with minimal supervision, that are open ended yet teach him a new skill, and that have quality materials.

STEM Reads Book Club is heavy on the curated book content and light on the activity content.  For $40/month (or less depending on how many months you order), they send you two or more kids’ books (at least one nonfiction and one fiction) correlating to a STEM theme (space/astronauts/coding) and a treat that has to do with the theme (funny seeds to plant, astronaut ice cream, math dice, etc) as well as an ideas inspiration card with further suggested activities to explore the topic (supplies not included).  Essentially, this is a spendy and fun way to build your science/tech/engineering/math home library.  I really do like the look of these books (they’re not cheap dollar store junk), and since these are my weakest areas academically, I can use the professional help in selecting these.  The website says that these are intended for ages 4-8, but my 10 year old will definitely be poring over them, too.  I am pleased so far, and we’ll request this as a grandparent gift in the future.

Steve Spangler Science Club has a variety of STEM-themed subscriptions.  We chose Stem Lab, which has 4 or 5 activities for $20/month (all you need is included).  These are less building-oriented and more about observing and recording scientific phenomena.  In terms of directions, the cards are very clear and well-written.  These demonstrations have actually all worked for us–this is a huge deal for me!  Many of them can be done over and over, so if you were the type to save boxes and not pitch them, you’d really get your money’s worth with these.  My son says he remembers what he learned because the activities were pretty cool.  I think Steve Spangler gets the “wow factor” that helps get kids excited about science.  This is my favorite of the science ones we’ve tried and one I’d highly recommend for grandparents looking for subscription gift ideas.

Tinker Crates have been a hit with my 10 year old–he likes them just as much as the Spangler ones.  For $20/month, he’s sent a new STEM type project to build.  I like that he has done these all totally on his own–the directions are apparently very clear and easy to follow, and my son says what makes them the best are the pictures showing you exactly what you’re supposed to be doing/building.  All supplies (plus extras) are included, and while they are kindof fiddly, I don’t care about the lack of sturdiness because we will throw them away in a couple of days.  I would definitely not ever go to the trouble of picking up supplies to make a hydraulic claw, so he’s doing science-y crafts that he would not otherwise be doing.  I’ve seen online reviews mention that some folks have had broken or missing pieces.  We’ve never had that, but they are certainly lower budget projects that are not intended to last for months or years.  For the price, I don’t mind too much.  My son says he’s learned some science, but they’re mostly just fun.

Groovy Lab in a Box is a kit I just wanted to love.  For $30/month, they include supplies to do several STEM activities (heavier on the engineering/building side) for ages 8+.  The problem is that the instructions are brief and very open-ended, and last week my son asked me to cancel our subscription because he gets frustrated by them and needs a lot of help that I don’t have the time/expertise to give right now.  My 8 year old would not be able to do any of this on her own.  Even my engineer father-in-law had trouble figuring out what exactly they were supposed to be doing, and the experiment aspect is hard to do when you’re not even sure if you have set things up properly.  These epitomize all that I hate about science as it was taught to me all the way from grade school through college–be open ended and try things out yourself!  Except that you should be coming up with results that will demonstrate this scientific fact that you already know!  But do it with cheap tools that don’t really work!  For my temperament (and apparently my son’s, as well), it’s maddening to have so many open variables when I still have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing/learning (and when I’m trying to derive scientific principles using cheap homemade “equipment” that can be sent through the mail in a shoebox-sized box).  Perhaps true scientists would love that.  I’m probably a bad mom and destroying my childrens’ future because I want them to have more direction at this stage of their scientific journey.  Oh well.  We’ll stick to the above boxes and lots of nature journaling.  My son can’t articulate anything STEM-related that he’s learned from Groovy Lab, other than that with science you often can spend a lot of time on something and still have it not work.  I guess that is an important lesson, but I don’t feel the need to spend $30/month to teach him that.

And we’ve tried one art-related subscription, too!  I know there are some open-ended crafty-type kits out there, but two years ago, I emailed my sister-in-law (the professional artist who designed the art for our blog!) and asked her what quality art supplies we should order.  So we have Prismacolor colored pencils (that even my 4 year old uses), Pelikan watercolors, Winsor & Newton brushes, and Strathmore Watercolor Paper for special watercolor projects.  Wow, there is a difference when you use good art supplies!  I can never go back to Crayola.  We do a ton of open-ended art with these supplies, and two of the kids have taken art classes, as well.  So we’re kindof beyond the cheapo stuff we’d get in many kid kits.

So MarkyBox is a subscription with real art projects (for advanced kids or adults).  We got three huge boxes for $33 apiece that each had a pretty intense activity (plaster mold of your fist, paper marbling, tin printing) with everything you need included, plus pretty detailed directions.  My son loves art and tried these mainly on his own.  With minimal help from me, they turned out…okay.  They’re a fun introduction to real, “grown-up” art, but I’d definitely recommend them for an older kid or plan to be actively involved in every step of the process.

In the future, we’re looking forward to trying out a robotics or coding subscription.  Anyone have favorites they’d like to share with the rest of us?  Have you tried any of the ones here?


(The amazon links for the art supplies are affiliate links–if you purchase through them, we get a tiny percentage back to help fund our blog hosting fees.  The subscription links are not affiliate links–we get no kickback for sending you to any of their sites.)

Posted in Gift Giving, Homeschooling | 1 Comment

Real Housewives of E2S: 9:41 am

We had a free-for-all with the art supplies bin this morning. And it’s not even ten o’clock yet.

About the Real Housewives of E2S Project.


Posted in Real Housewives of E2S | Leave a comment
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